Just over a year ago, the lockdowns had us all uncertain of many things, cultural norms being among those concerns. It was my parents anniversary. This year they wanted us all to go out to a movie. What a wonderful opportunity to mark such a lively occasion with an act of freedom. Our local Blue Jay Cinema had closed all four of it's screens since lockdowns began. The marquee simply read "Just keep swimming ~ Dory" for over a year... until recently. Seeing that marquee change was a sign of hope, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Here's the thing; It's always been a task to go from the San Bernardino mountains to a decent theatre. Not to say the local Blue Jay Cinema is not a place of magic itself, but in order to get a more fulfilling experience, one had to seek lower ground. As teenagers with drivers licenses, it was the big getaway every Friday night. Miles away and one half tank of gas to go down and back up the mountain. The AMC at Ontario Mills or the humble yet glamorous Krikorian in Redlands, these were the hot spots back then and the trips were usually worth it. Oh the fine times!
There was something ominous about the theatre today. White tents lined the normally bustling sidewalks of the lovely and all outdoors shopping extravaganza of Victoria Gardens. The tents were there for outdoor dining, but still gave off the global biohazard apocalypse vibe. With such a narrow walkway, we navigated between the tents and toward the AMC entrance which was barely visible due to the encroaching tents.
The box office was empty and only populated with paper signs posted where an attendant once stood. "Masks are required inside of the theatre at all times" and "Ticket purchases and will call available inside". However the door to the entrance was difficult to spot. There was only one unlocked door and it was small, just to the side of the box office. My father opened it for us and we entered to pick up our tickets. We were there to pay homage not to one, but two Hollywood icons; Godzilla vs. Kong.
It hit me while standing in the concession line; the way the lights illuminated the red and beige tones, the Vegas like carpeting designed to hide stains, the bass booms coming from the different theatres as protagonists battle to overcome their challenges. It reminded me of seeing Jurassic Park and Independence Day for the first time, or entering a thriving video arcade as a kid. There was so much life here. The cinema will always be full of life, but it's up to society to want to harness the cinema in order for it to survive. Maybe that's why we were all okay with the nine dollar popcorn. Bypass the Bavarian pretzel for fifteen dollars though. The staff was fresh, plentiful and ready to serve, sweep and sanitize.
We were the first in the theatre. Because of this, we were introduced to an interesting new interactive app that allows you to use your phone to scan the screen and play games with other audience members. An awesome feature, but I couldn't help but remember the past where even revealing a cell phone was discouraged to prevent film pirating. Strange times. I guess it's sort of similar to the smug attitude toward snowboarding when it became a craze; now everyone is doing it. No doubt this was some new way to collect audience data.
People began to start filling in, and I imagine at a theatre around an eighth full, we were at a little over half capacity under Covid restrictions. The reel before the previews was also another reminder of the new times we are in. It was filled with messages of mask regulations and courtesy instructions. It was less about the baby crying and more oriented around assuring the baby had a mask on. Here's a neat trick; just get yourself some popcorn and a drink and you really don't have to breathe your own breath the entire time. Baby steps, we'll get back to normal eventually.
The lights dimmed, the previews started and all of that went away. Seeing that screen pop on and hearing that bass rumble was like meeting up with an old friend from childhood. It didn't matter what we were there to see, just that we were there seeing it. While Godzilla vs. Kong has made ripples in a streaming deal with HBO, I can assure you that the experience of seeing a film like this in a movie theatre was a much more intensely detailed and vibrant experience. There are certain shots and sounds that you just wont experience in a typical home theatre, well unless you have a high quality projector screen and an impressive Dolby 5.1 system. Particularly in Godzilla vs. Kong, you are missing out on some amazing CG water effects and textures.
The movie ended and we all rushed to the restrooms. People were lined up at the concession for other showings. Ah, how I've missed the movies. We were in that space once again.
"Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin." ~ Mother Teresa