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July 03, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

Like a dog to its vomit, I keep coming back to rants about the same pet peeves. Maybe it's because I spend so little time at general admission multiplex movies, but it's tough to surpress a wince of outrage every time a commercial appears on screen. I haven't yet been numbed into submission.

Perhaps it wouldn't be as bad if the ads didn't look like crap. These are clearly made-for-TV spots that have been blown up to a size at which they were never intended to be shown. It's bad enough to be part of a captive audience for this sort of hucksterism, but even worse when it's hard to figure out what's being hawked because the visual quality is so poor.

The final tally of material before War of the Worlds: five commercials and four previews. The movie started about 10 minutes late, which I suppose is good. I routinely arrive 15 minutes late for showings at another theater, and I don't think I have ever missed a second of the actual movie.

There is one thing to consider, though. Adult admission at the theater I attended last Wednesday is $5.50. All things considered, that's pretty cheap for a first-run movie in an auditorium that's relatively modern (decent sight lines, stadium seating, comfortable seats, few noticeable projection problems). One can almost justify the inclusion of several ads if it's a means of keeping ticket prices down. Personally, I would be willing to pay a $1 or $2 surcharge to keep the commercials at bay.

But there are plenty of theaters that charge $9 or $10 for an adult admission and still have commercials. Those are top-of-the-line prices for a less-than-ideal movie experience. I believe that price should be related to quality. If I go to a theater and spend $10 to see a movie, I expect to be getting something clearly better than what I get at my $5.50 local multiplex. More than likely, however, I'm getting something worse.

I have heard exhibitors argue that they show commericals as a way to avoid raising ticket prices. I can believe that of the $5.50 theater, but it sounds like a lie when voiced by AMC, which consistently has the highest prices on the block. But all of this is belied by the situation at the small Ritz chain (three venues in Philadelphia and one in Voorhees, NJ), which charges $9 for night adult admissions ($6.75 for matinees) and has no commercials. Not one. I spoke to a Ritz manager about this and his response was straightforward: "We don't want or need them. Sure, they would make some extra money, but why alienate customers? Even if it wasn't a matter of protecting the integrity of the movie-going experience and maintaining our reputation, the loss in revenue from losing customers would probably exceed what we would get paid to show [commercials]."

Sounds sensible to me. I wonder if and when other theater managers are going to understand this. Or if they won't care until chains start going under because no one's going to the movies any more...