“First time? Seriously? What fake version of the Midwest did you grow up in anyway?” — A tweet from my friend and colleague Brad Sanders, @bradscottsand
Brad is referring to my first visit to a drive-in movie theater. It does seem like something I would’ve done with my family years ago and something every Midwesterner should do at some point in his or her life. It’s probably also a must for a film critic trying to grasp an old sense of movie nostalgia.
But if I haven’t been, it’s because no one is going to say seeing a movie at a drive-in is ideal for any movie buff. The sound and picture quality is poor, the weather can be a nuisance, the number of distractions is greater and the choices are limited. Why see “The Hunger Games” on a bizarre double bill with “Mission Impossible: 4” when there are so many other options available?
And yet I must recommend it, because the drive-in movie theater gave me a sense of movie magic I simply don’t feel anymore at the multiplex.
First and foremost, seeing a movie at the drive-in theater is a social experience. I see many movies on my own, and I can never imagine doing the same at a drive-in. Something about sitting in a car alone watching a teen romance movie is a bit sketchy.
My group arrived an hour before showtime with a family bucket of fried chicken and two six-packs of Bell’s Oberon, and we had a ball. A brief hailstorm confined us to a car for a while, but afterward, the guys threw around a Frisbee as the girls danced to some Top 40 garbage.
The movie itself, on the other hand, put a few of our travel companions to sleep and again confined us to within sitting distance of the Starlite Drive-In’s tiny, mildly portable speakers.
And if you were ever distracted by cell phones in a multiplex, try dealing with a car alarm and headlights blaring as Katniss Everdeen reminisces about her dead father.
Still, sitting on a blanket on a hilly, grassy field can be a warm, welcoming experience. It’s hard to beat $8 for a double feature anywhere, and the plentiful concession stand had a cute, kitschy feel to it you just don’t find at the AMC.
That’s because many of the inconsistencies, annoyances and technological problems at a drive-in feel like part of the magical vibe, whereas the same at a multiplex just feels dumpy and awful.
What is it about going to the multiplex today that just feels miserable? The Starlite might only be showing two movies, but sometimes it feels like the AMC doesn’t have many more decent selections.
At the drive-in, I can stretch my legs and play a game in the mud, whereas in the movie theater, I have to watch 15 minutes of advertisements and previews.
The drive-ins virtually failed for a number of reasons, but modern movie theaters are going the same way. If the AMCs of the world want to combat the rise of television and the Internet in movie watching, maybe they should lay off the 3-D and technological gimmicks and focus on bringing a sense of community back to the movies.
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