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COLUMN: The new movie theater experience


Patrons walk through the concessions area of the AMC Classic Bloomington 12. Movie theaters across the country have reopened in recent weeks after making changes to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Zach Hsu

The closing of movie theaters for the last several months has been a very strange experience. I went from seeing new releases regularly to not going to theaters at all – a very sharp break for me. The initial outbreak of COVID-19 and its rapid spread forced government officials to determine which businesses should be kept open- a category movie theaters were never going to be placed in. 

Over the summer, there was talk about theaters reopening – a prospect I was cautiously optimistic about. While I did want to go back to theaters, I didn’t think it was actually going to happen. But then it did. And I was ready to go. 

I pre-ordered my ticket for a 7:30 p.m. showing of “The New Mutants” at the AMC CLASSIC Bloomington 12 theater on Thursday, and I dressed for the occasion. I wore a jacket, pants and winter gloves so I wouldn’t be touching any part of the seat. I had the ticket pulled up on my phone so I could get in as fast as possible. I had my mask on before I even got out of my car. 

But when I got into the theater, things felt very normal. 

Yes, there were shields up wherever employees would have to interact with customers and everyone was wearing a mask, but we’ve reached a point where such sights are the new normal and I barely even registered it. Just about the only sign something was off was an ICEE machine advertising “Sonic the Hedgehog,” a movie released back in February. 

Every other row in the theater was blocked off and people were clearly trying to be distant from others, but otherwise it felt about the same. The audience of roughly a dozen people sat through a never-ending stretch of previews for the same stuff we’ve been seeing for years. There was a cheap horror movie, the next Marvel release and even a cheesy action movie starring Gerard Butler. 

Once the movie started I almost forgot about the coronavirus pandemic. It felt like a normal time at the movies. There were sound problems early on, people loudly chewing their popcorn and even some audience members cracking insensitive jokes. You know, the usual. 

To sum up, the new theater experience is fairly similar to the old one. 

But it is by no means the same. 

While not everyone has to go to the lengths I did to protect myself, everyone should absolutely take precautions. Here are five things you should do:

The entrance to the AMC Classic Bloomington 12 is seen Saturday. The theater reopened recently after closing temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic. Zach Hsu

Take all standard precautions

While this seems like fairly common wisdom at this point, the number of people I saw taking their masks off once the movie started suggests otherwise. Wear a mask, wash your hands before you leave for the theater and once you return home and don’t even think about touching your face. 

Go to less busy showtimes

Some good options are weekdays, matinees and the latest showings of the night. This should decrease the odds you’re in a crowded theater.

Buy your tickets before you arrive

I know there’s an extra charge, but you want to limit interaction as much as possible. Download the AMC Theatres app or get an email with the ticket on it.

Don’t get concessions

Not only are you interacting with the person behind the stand, but you’ll also have to regularly take your mask off and put your fingers near your face, both of which put yourself and others at risk.

Exercise your best judgement

Just because I felt comfortable going to a theater doesn’t mean you should. No one I regularly interact with is immunocompromised, but not everyone is in the same situation. Everyone has different circumstances they need to take into account. 

I will still go to the theater to see movies, but not everyone should feel obligated to. This is a personal decision that only you can make. All I can say is I enjoyed my experience, and if you feel safe going out, then you just might too.

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