Going to quiet movies has become the battle of the soundtracks
Posted April 18
Over the past three weeks my wife and I have been skipping the usual bombastic blockbuster fare in favor of relatively quiet films playing in local theaters — the most recent being “Tommy’s Honour,” “Gifted,” “The Case for Christ,” “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “A United Kingdom.”
And while we enjoyed all five, there was a distraction that became an annoyance during each one, in every auditorium of the Megaplex and Cinemark theaters we attended.
I know what you’re thinking — he’s going to cite the usual grumblings: chattering audience members, phone lights periodically popping up, latecomers using their phones as flashlights to locate their reserved seats.
Actually, these five screenings were sparsely attended matinees with no more than 15 people at any one showing, and in some cases only three or four.
No one was rowdy or rude. Everyone seemed to be there for the communal, immersive experience of enjoying a motion picture on a massive screen.
In other words, generally speaking, we all realized we were in a public movie theater and not in our own living rooms. (Something that some attendees tend to forget now and then.)
The distraction did come from modern technology, but not the personal kind.
In each case it was the rumblings of the auditoriums on either side of ours — the booming stereo sounds of explosions, crashes, rocking music and indistinct yelling that seemed to be shaking the walls. And which was completely out of sync with the movies we were watching.
Really? We have major technological advances in digital sound but no advances in sound-proofing the walls between screening rooms?
You may be thinking, "Oh, that was probably just something mild that maybe came and went a couple of times." No, sorry, it was anything but mild, and while it did ebb and flow, when it ebbed, it really ebbed.
At one point my wife leaned over and whispered, “Is it an earthquake?”
I was thinking long-range missile.
Perhaps the movies we chose were just too quiet. Maybe theaters aren’t made for quiet movies anymore.
After all, how many silent lulls, without music or dialogue or detonations, are there in, say, “The Fate of the Furious”?
But in our case, the noise was bleeding over from “Smurfs: The Lost Village” and “The Boss Baby” as much as from “Kong: Skull Island” and “Ghost in the Shell.”
There’s a lot of talk about how loud movies are these days. It’s especially noticeable when those pre-movie ads are stopped (sometimes in mid-sentence) and the digital soundtrack kicks in for more ads, myriad trailers and, eventually, the movie itself. (Often, by the time the film begins, I’ve forgotten what we came to see.)
But the battle of the sound systems on these occasions provided a most undesirable side effect.
Ironically, the films we saw in Cinemark theaters were preceded by an ad touting the chain’s XD picture-and-sound system for “the absolute best movie-going experience,” according to the theater chain’s “Chief Movieologist,” complete with lab coat and pointer stick.
He extols the digital projection system, the specially designed silver screen and the multichannel speakers, concluding with a very loud climactic joke about what’s really responsible for Cinemark XD’s quality: “But to be honest, it’s probably the unicorns.”
OK, I’m ready to kill the unicorns. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)
But perhaps it’s our own fault.
If we went to the big studio blockbusters like good little moviegoers, we’d never have any such distractions.
After all, no one watching “Power Rangers” or “CHIPS” is going be disturbed by the next-door auditorium’s films about a courtroom battle for custody of a 6-year-old genius or a 19th-century Scottish golfer trying to play a match in the snow or an atheist reporter attempting to disprove the Bible.
But when that golfer is lining up his shot or that reporter is interviewing a subject and it suddenly sounds as if a plane has crashed into the room on the other side of the auditorium wall, well, it’s a bit much.
Come to think of it, if a plane did crash into a theater or an actual real-life earthquake did hit, would anyone inside even notice?
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.