When our family saw The Avengers back in May — including sticking around for the famous shawarma scene after the end credits — we exited the theater starstruck and satisfied we’d received our money’s worth tenfold. My son and I even discussed the possibility of seeing it a second time. For a teenager whose generation doesn’t appreciate the concept of TV reruns, or the nerdist notion of watching a film enough times to memorize the dialogue, a request for an immediate encore marks his highest conceivable level of praise.
Between our hectic summer schedule and my preference for experiencing the unseen over rehashing the already-seen, I demurred and procrastinated. This Labor Day weekend, Marvel Studios reminded my son of our discussion by arranging a return to wide release for The Avengers as one last attempt at usurping Titanic‘s title as the second-highest grossing film in American box office history. For the sake of father/son quality time, we went for it.
Admittedly, I was pleased to be able to watch for a few new things I missed on my first go-around: the throwaway cameo by Dollhouse‘s amazing Enver Gjokaj as a flustered policeman; the indiscernible Alexis Denisof (yay Wesley!) as Thanos’ sidekick; the exact moments in which the “ST” and the “RK” are knocked off Tony’s precious monument to himself; Thanos’ gleeful reaction to the final line of dialogue (“To challenge them is to court death” — if you know Thanos, you know that’s one of his turn-ons); and the entire mountainside chat between Thor and Loki, which was had been ruined in my first viewing by an unwelcome, well-lit distraction from an uncouth cell phone user in the audience.
I rarely see a film more than once in theaters anymore. Except for dedicated cineastes and theater employees, I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Between high ticket prices and sometimes unpleasant theater conditions, it’s become challenging enough to attract some viewers for one showing of a new film, let alone encourage repeat business. It doesn’t help that the DVD/Blu-ray versions arrive on stores shelves faster and more furiously than they used to in the old days of home video. Gone are the times of pacing back and forth, waiting anywhere from six months to several years before being allowed to purchase copies of your favorite films. Today’s accelerated distribution system makes it easier than ever to sit through the same film as many times as you’d like, in as short a time span as you’d like after release. In the final analysis, even one Blu-ray is cheaper than six full-price movie tickets. (Living near a second-run dollar might help, if you don’t mind the celluloid deterioration after all those previous months’ worth of showings.)
I can recall several instances from my moviegoing past when I took opportunities to spend too much disposable income on multiple trips to the silver screen for the sake of a single work. For nostalgic brainstorming fun, I present a montage of films I saw more than once in theaters, and the rationalizations that enabled them.
Return of the Jedi — I was 11 in 1983 and had never been allowed to see a movie twice. I saw ROTJ once and thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I hadn’t seen Star Wars and had only read Donald F. Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back (a school book fair selection). While on vacation later that summer at my aunt’s place down south, we decided a movie outing was in order; our options were ROTJ again or Burt Reynolds in Stroker Ace. We won; Burt lost. Fourteen years later I also endured the 1997 “Special Edition” re-release, but I was older, less enamored, and had a hard time suppressing my snarky commentary. I’m pretty sure I had to be elbowed at least once before I shut up.
Independence Day — My best friend and I caught it opening weekend at the local drive-in. With such poor radio sound, sundown not yet finished, and the experience basically held away from us at arm’s length, it was all too easy to notice all the shortcomings and tally up all the references and swipes from other, better films. Not long after, I went with family to an indoor showing with a high-quality sound system that included super-powered subwoofers. With the vibrations and the thrumming and the EXPLOSIONS in full effect, suddenly it was the Greatest Disaster Movie of All Time. ‘Twas truly a film where effects made a massive difference.
Star Trek: First Contact — Because, frankly, it was all that.
Scream and Con Air — Two separate examples of me seeing a film on my own and enjoying it so intensely that I insisted on dragging my best friend to them, so she could see what I wouldn’t shut up about. We were still in that early stage of our relationship where I had no idea that her own movie preferences weren’t identical to mine. It took me some time and a few unfortunate occurrences before I learned an important lesson, one that I still observe today now that we’re married: just because I really, really like something doesn’t mean that I’m required to subject her to it, too, especially not over her strenuous objections. Learn this and learn this well, males.
Godzilla — I was so pumped up and ready for Roland Emmerich’s surely extraordinary reboot of the Toho legend, I saw it twice on opening day. First showing: I was alone and blown away. Second showing, with my best friend: I fidgeted a little more. Third time, with my mom: glaring issues began to appear to me like a kind of unhappy magic. Fourth showing, at a dollar theater, strictly for my five-year-old son’s benefit: I laughed through most of it, but he bawled when Godzilla died. It broke my heart and his, though he calmed down when the egg hatched at the very end. Today he loathes the film, as well he should.
The entire Star Wars prequel trilogy — Six showings of The Phantom Menace, a few apiece of the other two. Star Wars fever was in full swing for us in those days, but it ebbed as the quality of each successive movie ebbed. Some of those multiple screenings were just to spend quality time with the best friend who later became my wife, but I’ll admit that six showings of TPM was far too many. By the final attempt, I found myself dozing through most of the long, long stretch in Tatooine, including some of the podrace.
X-Men — First time was on opening night while attending a St. Louis sci-fi convention whose featured guests included four cast members from Mystery Science Theater 3000. After the prologue and opening, when we MSTies all read the transitional caption, “The not-too-distant future”, this absolutely, unintentionally brought down the house. Second time was back home for the benefit of my son, who didn’t get it.
Serenity — As a huge fan of Firefly, the first showing was A+++++++ but so devastated me, I hadn’t planned to see it again. Then I became offended at the weak box office returns. I became firmly convinced that all those free advance screenings they’d held in hopes of fostering Internet buzz probably just gave several thousand freeloaders an excuse not to pay for it. So I did what I felt was my duty and saw it once more. Wash’s final scene was no easier for me to weather.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — First showing was courtesy of passes I scored to an advance sneak preview. I was so excited about the privilege of a sneak preview for such a high-profile film that I immediately went home, spent all night long writing an unpaid, pre-release, volunteer review for someone else’s gain, and went to work the next day at my actual paying job on three hours’ sleep…only to learn that the site had crashed for reasons unknown, and remained down all weekend long. Many aspects of this incident point to the myriad reasons why I don’t get to write for money. Oh, and my second showing was with family, after I slept for a couple of days first.
The Dark Knight — One mandatory normal showing, and one in IMAX just to see the difference. I was enthralled by the zillion-decibel sound system, but irritated by the switches back and forth from theatrical ratio to IMAX ratio, back and forth and back and forth, like someone playing with the “Zoom” button on a flatscreen TV. Not a fan of that jarring effect.
Toy Story 2 — Once in the original theatrical run; once in 2010 when my wife and I scored free passes to a Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3-D double feature. I’m no fan of 3-D, but I’ve yet to get sick and tired of either film.
Avatar — Once with my son; once as a kindness to my mom. I slept through some of the native alien-acclimatization montage, even in 3-D.
Chronicle — Because, frankly, it was all that. Ignore the denigrated “gimmick”, note the subtleties, and feel the harrowing.
Thus does Marvel’s The Avengers join their quasi-hallowed ranks. It didn’t need the extra cash flow nearly as much as Serenity did, but it was a pleasant use of the holiday weekend. I’m planning no more repeats this year, but Lord knows how next year’s fare will turn out. Best-case scenario: maybe Benedict Cumberbatch will give us a bravura, must-see-again-and-again performance in Star Trek II.2: the Wrath of Not-Khan.