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Is Marshall Cinema Dying?Posted Tuesday, November 18, 2008, at 12:06 AM
Do you want to see the new James Bond in the theater?
My fears were heightened this weekend when B&B Theaters--the parent independent theater chain that manages the Marshall Cinema--failed to provide our local theater with a print of the latest James Bond thriller "Quantum of Solace". In its place, the citizens of Marshall and the surrounding communities have been given the opportunity to screen "Appaloosa", a western that was released nationally a month and a half ago, will be available on DVD in another two months, and has not preformed well at the box office.
It isn't that I don't want to see "Appaloosa". I'm a huge fan of the western genre and can't wait for the chance to see this passion project of actor/director Ed Harris. But I would guess I'm in a very small minority of people in this area who even know who Ed Harris is by name alone. What really disturbs me is the passing up of a chance to show one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Not only has James Bond been pulling in box office bucks for over 40 years, but also "Quantum of Solace" has been tearing up the European box office for the past couple of weeks.
It just seems to me B & B is passing up on the chance to screen a movie that might actually bring them some money. They have done a very good job for the past few years of making sure a good deal of the summer blockbusters get their chance in Marshall. But Hollywood has two blockbuster seasons a year, and their big winter releases tend to bring in as much money as their summer fare. I can understand justifying a pass on the award contenders that are also released quite heavily during the winter months--they just don't raise enough interest with ticket buyers in an area like this one--but to pass on such a surefire hit as the latest James Bond … well, I just don't get it.
Knowing what I do about the movie exhibition business, it is quite possible that Sony was asking a ridiculous amount of money to secure a print of this particular movie, but I noticed that the B&B Cannonball in Lexington got a print of it. And although the rental fee on "Appaloosa" was probably much less than "Quantum" to begin with--and even cheaper since the movie has been in wide release for well over a month--I can't imagine its ticket sales will even begin to pay the cost of having the theater open this week.
But that's really what it comes down to; can the Marshall Cinema make enough money to even justify its own existence? From some of the crowds I saw during those big money summer blockbusters, I would think not. I took my son to a matinee screening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" on a dreary Memorial Day afternoon and we were the only ones in the theater. The movie was four days old at that point and has been one of the biggest moneymakers of the year so far.
It is difficult, however, to blame audiences for not wanting to see movies in the Marshall Cinema. In the big theater the projector sits too far from the screen for the entire picture to fit and for a long time there were major problems with the sound. Plus a dubiously timed price hike to $8 for an adult ticket that coincided with the highly anticipated release of "The Dark Knight" could make for an expensive night out.
It does seem that the sound issues were solved at some point this fall. And the staff of the Marshall Cinema is always friendly and courteous. Improvements with the ticketing system have made buying tickets and concessions a one-stop convenience. So, the cinema isn't entirely to blame for diminishing interest. Home theater systems have become much cheaper since the popular acceptance of the DVD format, and the high quality picture and sound they provide in the comfort of your own home has taken its toll on theatrical exhibitors across the country. But a home theater experience can never replace that of a cinematic one.
Audiences are also to blame for exhibiting a great deal of apathy for the theatrical experience. I hear people complaining about the fact that we don't have a decent theater in this town all the time. How could we? If no one goes out to the movies, who in their right mind would build us a better cinema than the one we have. Until Marshall attendance numbers improve, the Marshall Cinema will forever be a low priority on B&B's theater improvement schedule.
A cinema is an interactive experience. This is what makes it better than the home theater. But the cinema needs to know it has an audience. And in order for that audience to be pleased with their cinema, the cinema needs to know what that audience wants. With the economy in the pits, people will be less willing to go out of town for their entertainment. And even though tickets now cost $8 a pop, it is still less than gas to Kansas City or Columbia.
So if you want to see a movie, go see it now--in theaters. If there's a movie you know is coming and you want to see it in the theater, let the staff of the Marshall Cinema know about it. If there's anything wrong with your experience, let them know that too. Improvements to your theatrical experience can't be made if you don't even see movies in the theater.
My review of "Quantum of Solace" will appear soon.
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.