Let’s (Not ALL) Go to the Movies: A Handy 4-Step Safety Guide (Safety Not Guaranteed)

AMC at Night!

What’s missing from this picture? The answers may not surprise you!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: once upon a time I used to go to the movies a bit too often and write about my experiences. In 2020 I managed to catch Birds of Prey, The Invisible Man, and Onward on the big screen before the Age of Coronavirus slammed the doors shut on that hobby for the foreseeable future. On a related note, next January’s “Best and Worst Movies of the Year” entry should take me far less time to write than usual.

MCC readers are well aware I haven’t taken this era lightly. In the past seven months our family has severely curtailed activities off our property. We’ve gotten used to masks as a life preserver and a fashion accessory, declined invitations to group events both one-time and recurring, and steered clear of any outsiders who dared approach us without first presenting a signed and witnessed clean bill of health and a notarized Certificate of Authenticity for same. We took cautions and intrepid care when attempting a limited in-state vacation. My wife Anne and I took baby steps back into a select number of restaurants while enforcing personal measures to ensure safety and having compassionate consideration for the anxiety levels of others around us even while monitoring our own. We even figured out how to get haircuts again while stylists and clients are on edge on either side of the shears.

Any of this could’ve gone wrong. So far, not yet. We suffer no delusions of immortality in this broken world. We don’t take such providence lightly. We beware the sort of complacency that has proven the downfall of thousands of others burdened with more hubris than horse sense.

And yet…having been slightly, ever so lightly encouraged by the results so far, we’ve been having discussions about other former activities and wondered what steps we could take toward reinventing our approach to those in a way that might see our survival odds appreciably above zero.

Long rationalization short: last week my son and I went to the movies.

Wait, I can explain.

AMC COVID poster!

Where a movie poster should be, instead AMC shares the lifesaving techniques they’ve implemented, like they’re flight attendants telling you what to do in case your plane crashes.

We didn’t run headlong, pell-mell, or carefree into theaters the second they reopened, mind you. We put thought into it beforehand, as did the executives and managements of thousands of cinemas nationwide, all starving for attention and economic renaissance and scientifically vetted COVID-19 vaccines, not necessarily in that order. They’d love to go back to hosting everyone’s favorite summer action blockbuster extravaganzas again, but preferably without being name-checked in viewers’ obituaries. They’ve implemented steps ostensibly to do so, or at least made loud proclamations that they have. Given the lives and income lost and the workaday livelihoods at stake, I’d like to think there’s some sincerity to them, in actions taken as well as sentiments expressed. Considering some major American markets remain 100% shut down as of today, it’s a situation somewhere between painstaking ingenuity and short-sighted audacity that any theaters around here are open in the first place.

So how did we do it, you ask? Well, presumably once you’re done asking, “REALLY?” which is more of a rhetorical interjection than a question and therefore doesn’t count as being a thing you “ask”. Anyway, our approach breaks down into four complicated and fear-filled steps. This list is in no way meant to be straight-up role modeling or an endorsement of running outside and doing anything anywhere anytime. Among other reasons, if everyone takes these ideas to heart, then theaters will get too crowded too soon and everything will go horribly, lethally wrong. So not everyone should follow this outline. In fact, if no one does any of this and you all stay home, then it’s all the safer for me to go out. Unless all our theaters go out of business first, which would be depressing and inconvenient.

…what were we talking about?

Oh, right, the listicle portion of our program:

STEP ONE: HESITATION.

Then and now, the basic question for any movie fan is, is there anything out there we’d want to pay full price to watch? Real talk: a Russell Crowe B-movie ain’t it. Re-releases of old films we’ve already seen too many times ain’t it. The new Bill & Ted sequel was cause for brief internal debate, but the winner of that match was “not tempting fate”, so instead I’m monitoring the On Demand listing until prices fall to reasonable, non-desperate levels.

So if we were to do this thing, it had to be a film we really, really, really, really, really, really wanted to see NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW. Nothing qualified, but one film rated maybe two-and-a-half reallies and half a NOW. More like a NUH. It would have to do. And more than likely it’ll be the only one for quite some time to come.

No Movie Posters!

Where posters for all the current releases would be, instead the sanitation tactics are repeated several feet above eye level. Until science saves America, you get NO MOVIE POSTERS.

STEP TWO: ISOLATION.

At the theater, as in all other venues of living, other humans were the worst enemy, every stranger a potential Trojan horse that would lead us toward the dire realms of long-term hospitalization and five-digit billings. I’m aware some victims (including people I know) have only endured mild cases for a couple days as if it were merely a slightly meaner cold. How delightfully blessed for them and their list of comorbidity factors that don’t necessarily match the ones I’d spawn.

In practice, every AMC employee stood behind Plexiglas shields. I never saw any cleanup crew, probably all hiding behind the back seats until the coast was clear. The six fellow customers at the concession stand kept their distance from us, if not from each other. I couldn’t tell if all masks successfully covered all noses and mouths because I didn’t want to get close enough to see. All condiment stands were shut down and emptied out. All arcade and carny games were barred because touching. I can’t speak for the bathrooms because I went before we left and later made the conscious choice to hold it till I got home. I was not kidding about the amount of overthinking I put into this misadventure.

To minimize our points of contact even more, I pre-paid for our tickets and our snacks in advance, which is now an option AMC offers for their limited COVID-era menu. With the tickets pulled up on my phone as a QR code, we spent ten seconds flat at the first usher for momentary scanning and welcoming. When we approached the concession stand registers and said we’d ordered online, they asked no questions and handed us our two objects. It was easy and done in ten even flatter seconds because we were that evening’s only online snack pre-orderers.

Biggest drawback: pre-ordering everything costs extra. Three bucks’ “processing fee” for each ticket plus a one-buck “service fee” for setting aside candy and a drink. I knocked that down a bit with a pair of AMC passes someone gave me months ago that have been gathering dust ever since. Even then…I’d forgotten just how much we’d been blowing on movies before America ground to a halt. Yikes.

Dolby Cinema!

The view behind us from row 4, ten minutes before showtime. I love it when a plan comes together.

STEP THREE: DESOLATION.

This was the linchpin to our strategy: go to the movies when absolutely, positively no one else would be there.

We went on a Monday evening after work, not a crowded Friday or Saturday date night like thousands of other average citizens that might be easy marks for The Virus. I would’ve preferred a showing after 9 p.m., but those don’t exist right now because obviously the business isn’t there. 7:30 was the latest they offered, so we had to compromise.

We paid extra for a showing at the Dolby Cinema at AMC, their jacked-up premium screen with bombastically massive sound output and ostensibly higher-definition picture resolution. I gambled that under current economic conditions and social uneasiness, most folks (if any) would be filling in the cheapest seats at the other screens.

We waited until the feature presentation was in its third weekend, long after the departure of all hardcore Film Twitter and YouTube cineastes who settle for nothing less than opening weekend or else risk being labeled Majorly Uncool.

Also in our favor, safety-wise: mediocre word-of-mouth online. Some people like it but with reservations. A select few think it’s another home run for the director. Many more are…not on those same pages. But the winning majority appears to be Team Waiting-for-Home-Video-and-Making-the-Director-Cry.

Final tally: we only had to share the vast Dolby Cinema at AMC with three (3) other viewers. Close enough to perfect.

I don’t think they sat anywhere near us, either. I was too afraid to turn around and check. I didn’t hear anyone near us. Then again, I couldn’t hear much of anything over the Dolby-patented volume-17 speakers that steamrolled over any and all sounds, including parts of the movie itself.

The low population in the house made for a quiet pre-show experience. As we sat through the ads — including that same blasted M&M commercial I’ve seen so many times that I’m pretty sure it’s been rerunning since the 1940s (“This is your mission” “No, this is an envelope”) — during the pauses between them we could hear the peculiar whirring and humming of the all-new super deluxe air filtration systems touted in all of AMC’s posters, ads, and incessant email blasts. I worried they’d interfere with the movie. That was a non-issue, as the movie contained zero quiet moments. The biggest drawback to the film’s sound quality was the film itself.

Anyway. Virtually no other bodies around us meant a drastically reduced threat level.

Tenet Poster!

One poster hung in the way, way back of the building. Also, spoiler for our next entry.

STEP FOUR: EXALTATION.

Stay nervous and jumpy throughout the entire running time. Never stop dreading the possibility of some bumbling fool sauntering in thirty minutes late, sitting two seats away, and mouth-breathing between popcorn gulps and alarming coughing fits. Once the end credits have rolled and it’s time to leave, pray to the Lord your God, wish upon the stars above, or roll dice with your favorite anthropomorphic avatar of Pure Luck Itself in hopes that you’ve remained safe and uncontaminated through this nostalgic and harrowing experience.

For this step we would also accept EXHALATION, which is a thing you can resume doing with relief and vehemence once you’re outside and well past the exits and other patrons.

Then clutch onto a vestige of uneasiness at the back of your mind for the next fourteen days. As of this writing I’m on day 6.

…and that’s it. Four steps to 2020 movie “enjoyment”:

HESITATION
ISOLATION
DESOLATION
EXALTATION

What doesn’t work for attending movie theaters right now? You might be asking this if you subscribed to Highlights for Children and thought Goofus was the protagonist constantly thwarted by his arch-rival Gallant. That’s a different listicle of selfish acts that don’t help anyone:

Stubbornness
Ignorance
Carelessness
Kookiness

Pick your handy acronym to live by. H.I.D.E. or S.I.C.K.

Once you’ve made your choice, take a moment to hum a little ditty to yourself as you brace for the consequences of your life choices. Here’s a suggested tune for you, taken from the 1982 film Annie. My family saw it at the old Westlake Drive-In, where my mom’s 1981 Chevy Monza kept us safe from the elements and probably other people’s germs.

o/~ Let’s go to the movies (see the movies)
Let’s go see the stars
Red lights holler
Deep depression
What do we care?
Movies are there!
Only happy endings (boy gets girl, yes)
That’s our recipe!
Welcome to a lovely
M-O-V-I-E! o/~

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