Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Summer encroaches—already

Yes, I know—it’s only barely spring, but that’s becoming less and less related to the somewhat peculiar way in which the motion picture industry views the world. The winter (post-Christmas) is still the major repository of the worst the movies have to offer—with audiences finding relief only in films from the previous year that are only filtering into the provinces in the dead winter time. That looked a little different this year with the February release of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and the early March opening of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

It’s a little more rarefied, but the limited release of Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer in February also qualifies as something other than the usual winter rubbish. While Paul Greengrass’ Green Zone and Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman were both critical and commercial disappointments, they’re still not the kind of releases we think of in terms of the winter dumping grounds. It should come as no big surprise then that spring is already giving way to movies that we might more readily associate with summer. This week we have How to Train Your Dragon and next week the remake of Clash of the Titans.

Come the first week in May we get what’s being viewed by studios and exhibitors as the first of the big summer pictures with Iron Man 2, trailed by the Ridley Scott-Russell Crowe teaming of Robin Hood the next week. Before that month is out you can add Shrek Forever After, Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Michael Patrick King’s Sex and the City 2. No, this isn’t that new—Spider-Man 3 opened the first week May in 2007—but Hollywood is clearly making the push to narrow the window between the big Christmas season and the summer blockbusters.

Theoretically, this is good news for moviegoers. I’m certainly not complaining about a winter slate that gave us Shutter Island, Alice in Wonderland and The Ghost Writer. It made the usual fare more bearable. But is there a catch to all this? Apart from the obvious pitfall of a movie glut—not everyone can see everything that comes out—and the equally obvious problem of sensory overload, I have questions about corner-cutting in some cases. That issue is raised by the impending release of Clash of the Titans.

It’s not uncommon for films to be remonkeyed for 3D after being shot in 2D, which is the case here. It’s all part of the mania to cash in on the popularity of 3D and that very lucrative three to five dollar surcharge. (It’s not, they insist, for the glasses, but to offset the cost of refitting the theaters for 3D—even if viewers will be paying that long after the cost has been recouped.) And make no mistake—however you may feel about the process—it’s popular. When Alice in Wonderland took over all the local 3D screens but the ones at the Carmike 10, the attendance there for Avatar—as the only venue in town with it in 3D— jumped dramatically. All in all, the process is the prefered choice at this point in time. But Clash of the Titans in 3D tests the limits of the availability of digital 3D screens.

Alice in Wonderland hasn’t run out of steam, but it’s being jostled off local 3D screens to make way for How to Train Your Dragon—except for those at the Beaucatcher where Dragon isn’t opening and one screen at the Regal Biltmore Grande. Now comes the catch. Dragon is expected to take the weekend box office (clipping the 3D wings on Alice will help ensure that). Theaters do not drop number one films after a single week—and I doubt Paramount would stand for it. According to Roger Ebert, Paramount insisted that theaters book Dragon in 3D if they had the capability of using that format. (The 2D version would be available for other screens at those theaters and for theaters without 3D houses.)

That means that Clash of the Titans ought to be running smack into a wall as concerns screens on April 2. But it isn’t and the answer in part is 35mm 3D—which is somewhat removed from the digital version, though probably not as much as our digital-obsessed movie industry would like us to believe. Now, in at least one instance, this will be accomplished with a polarized 3D system, requiring a special lens and a silver screen much like digital 3D does.

The results should be fine, but all in all this isn’t appreciably different from the 3D enjoyed by viewers of House of Wax back in 1953 or Flesh for Frankenstein in 1974. (I doubt, however, that Clash will feature either a guy with a flyback paddle, or a liver on the end of spear dangling over the audience.) It remains to be seen whether anyone is showing the film in the anaglyphic process (the red and blue glasses), but it seems unlikely. Spy Kids 3D (2003) and The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl (2005) got away with that bargain basement system (to tepid box office), but that was before the current 3D explosion in polarized 3D. My guess is that any theater that hasn’t room for it in digital 3D or doesn’t have the 35mm polarized system (which I’m told is exclusive to the Carolina in Asheville) will run Clash in 2D.

Whatever the case in the 3D-ification of film (I’m waiting for the announcement that Letters to Juliette is being converted to 3D), we do appear to be looking at some shifting in the way Hollywood rolls out movies with more big and quality (occasionally, these are the same—very occasionaly) releases being spread over the year. This may, in fact, be related to the ten film Oscar list for Best Picture. In turn, this may be part of the logic behind moving Shutter Island from fall 2009 to winter of 2010—to deliberately have a major film from a major director take some of the onus off the season. Time will tell how this plays out, but it should be interesting, especially since their release dates did no perceptible harm to Shutter Island and Alice in Wonderland.

So are you ready for spring in winter and summer in spring? And if you are, I’d like to end this with reiterating some of basics of moviegoing common sense and good manners I put forth in the very first “Screening Room.” The biggest of these is so simple that it ought not need be said, but it apparemtly does—know what you’re going to see. If you don’t like violence or sex or nudity or what is euphemistically called “language,” find out whether one or more of these elements is present before you go and get yourself offended. The information is readily available. If nothing else, check the rating and the reasons behind that rating.

That brings up another issue—don’t assume you have knowledge you don’t. I’ve seen viewers who were not merely outraged by the fact that someone under 17 had managed to get into an R-rated movie, but insisted that the theater had violated “federal law.” That’s nonsense. The MPAA ratings have nothing to do with the federal government. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The whole idea of ratings—and the earlier self-governing attempts by Hollywood—represent the motion picture industry’s own set of guidelines, set up to specifically avoid a government censorship board. And that’s all the ratings are—guidelines. Some individual states used to have censorship boards and some have adopted the ratings as state law, but that’s as far as it goes.

Similarly, you may not approve of parents with children attending an R-rated film, but complaining to the management about it is a waste of everyone’s time. The theater is not in the job of teaching parenting skills, nor do they have any right to do so. Spare your blood pressure and spare the theater manager’s time on this one.

Consider your venues. Most theaters are part of a corporate chain. The manager has very limited powers. They are told what and how many trailers to put on a film and they are told what ads to run. (They also have no say in setting ticket or concession prices.) If you want to complain about this, complain to corporate headquarters. Also know a theater’s policy. Most corporate theaters run from five to seven trailers before a movie, giving you a window of about 15 to 20 minutes to get into the theater without missing any of the feature. But to take one example, the Fine Arts Theatre runs no ads and they run two or three trailers, so there’s a venue where you can’t expect that window for being late.

Here’s another one—just because a theater has a poster up or runs the trailer for a movie does not guarantee that theater will have that movie. Movies are allocated—especially in the case of theaters close to each other—and those allocations are often not made until long after posters and trailers have been sent out. On some occasions a movie will be advertised that fares so badly in test marketing that it never plays anywhere. (We saw trailers and posters for December Boys in 2007 and for The Boys Are Back in 2009, but the films never opened.) A TV trailer on national TV may claim that the film “starts Friday,” but that doesn’t mean it starts in your town on Friday. If you call a theater’s movieline number and it doesn’t give you the times for a particular movie, that probably means they aren’t playing that movie. Mistakes do occur, yes, but chances are that the movie was booked elsewhere.

Remember that only two local first-run theaters—the Fine Arts and the Carolina—are not part of a large—or semi-large—corporation. What does this mean to you? Well, among other things, it means that these are the only theaters where suggesting movies or anything of that sort is going to have any potential impact. The managers at corporate theaters have something less than no say in what gets booked, so there’s no point in telling them they need to book that new movie from Peter Greenaway or Pedro Almodovar. They might think so, too, but it’s not their call. With the independents that changes. It’s also in your best interests as a moviegoer who wants more than the most mainstream fare to support those theaters that bring it to you.

As far as moviegoing manners are concerned, all I’ll say is talking, cell phones and texting are just plain bad manners. I shouldn’t need to say anything more than that. Now get out there and watch movies.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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26 thoughts on “Cranky Hanke’s Screening Room: Summer encroaches—already

  1. LYT

    Hey Ken, what’s the dumbest question you ever got from a customer? I think when I worked at an art-house, the champ was “What’s POLISH WEDDING about?”

  2. Ken Hanke

    Hey Ken, what’s the dumbest question you ever got from a customer? I think when I worked at an art-house, the champ was “What’s POLISH WEDDING about?”

    I’m gonna have a hard time topping that, but I’ve always kind of liked the old man who was certain he’d been sent into the wrong movie — “I wanted to see Return of the King, but this is something called Lord of the Rings.” I tried explaining this and he went back in, but unconvinced. About 10 minutes later, he came back with, “I paid to see a PG film called Return of the King and this is some R rated movie called Lord of the Rings.” At this point, I suggested maybe he should get his money back from the box office. He did. I’ve always wondered if he found that movie he was looking for.

    But I’m also fond of the people who wanted their money back when they found that the 2005 big screen version of The Honeymooners didn’t star Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. In the same category almost was the man who complained that nowhere on the poster did it warn him that Jim Carrey “and that other guy” weren’t in Dumb and Dumberer.

    Once someone asked me, “Is this movie supposed to have sound?” I couldn’t resist and told him that yes, it was, I believed, a talkie. “Well, it doesn’t have any sound.” So I went to find out only to discover it had no sound, nor picture — because it didn’t start for five minutes.

    In many ways, I am not sorry to have parted ways with movie theater work.

  3. Tonberry

    In many ways, I am not sorry to have parted ways with movie theater work.

    When you parted ways, did you go out by blasting a machine gun while “All You Need Is Love” blared in the background?

  4. Ken Hanke

    When you parted ways, did you go out by blasting a machine gun while “All You Need Is Love” blared in the background?

    No, but the idea makes my mouth water. Still, I think you need a midget butler to really pull that off — not to mention that a machine-gun is kind of essential.

  5. Brian LaFever

    I still think the best ‘dumbest question’ from a customer was one passed on to me by another employee. A customer, upon approaching the concession stand, asked if we sold grilled cheese sandwiches.

    Almost as good was the customer that asked how old our water was. At least it had a snappy reply along the lines of “I’d say about a few million years, give or take a few thousand”.

  6. Don’t get ME started, but I’ll give you one of the best…

    We had a window cling for BLAIR WITCH PROJECT when an old man came in and asked, “did they ever find those kids?” I had to waste 30 minutes of my day trying to convince him that it was a movie.

  7. Ken Hanke

    We had a window cling for BLAIR WITCH PROJECT when an old man came in and asked, “did they ever find those kids?” I had to waste 30 minutes of my day trying to convince him that it was a movie.

    He was probably on his way to the Carmike to see a PG-rated movie called Return of the King.

    The story hardly surprises me, since I’ve stood in amazement listening to a gaggle of teenagers going on at length about how not only the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a true story, but that the footage at the beginning was “real.” I did not bother to attempt to disabuse them of this notion.

  8. Steven

    I worked at a theater last summer. A family came in asking a recommendation for a good family film. I can’t describe how tempted I was to recommend them [i]Bruno[/i], but I decided it was a smart move not to do so. I ended up recommending them [i]Up[/i], claiming that was one of the best films I had seen all year. Twenty minutes into the film, the mother came out, demanding a refund. She claimed it wasn’t a family film, but a “melodrama.” The sad thing is, she actually got a refund.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Twenty minutes into the film, the mother came out, demanding a refund. She claimed it wasn’t a family film, but a “melodrama.” The sad thing is, she actually got a refund.

    Not surprising. I wasn’t floor staff. I was in management for about nine years and you quickly learn (at least in the chain I worked for) that home office will never back you up, will always side with the customer, and will take the customer’s word. It is in management’s best interest to do whatever the customer wants just so the customer doesn’t go to the company website and complain.

  10. Louis

    Not surprising. I wasn’t floor staff. I was in management for about nine years

    Well….I’m no doubt late to the party, but this nonetheless caught my eye. This turn of events comes as news to me. Not a punch in the gut to “big screen” after-hours viewing, I hope?

  11. Ken Hanke

    This turn of events comes as news to me. Not a punch in the gut to “big screen” after-hours viewing, I hope?

    Inescapably, it does — at least at the same place. I may have more to say on that down the road.

  12. Sean Williams

    Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

    I am going to say — cautiously — that this looks marginally less terrible than the average video game adaptation.

    Michael Patrick King’s Sex and the City 2

    I am going to say unequivocally that this looks like AIDS on celluloid.

    Spider-Man 3 opened the first week May in 2007

    Speaking of Spider-Man, we finally have a teaser trailer for the Wes Anderson reboot:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5KfHEoZDKI&feature=PlayList&p=80782CF58E8A7C90&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=13

  13. Ken Hanke

    I am going to say—cautiously—that this looks marginally less terrible than the average video game adaptation

    Well, it looks okay for what it is, but I can’t say I’m filled expectations over it.

    I am going to say unequivocally that this looks like AIDS on celluloid

    I’m grimly fascinated to see if it can possibly be any worse than the first one. But then, Justin reviewed the first one, meaning he’s our Sex and the Show Store expert and probably ought to review it.

    Speaking of Spider-Man, we finally have a teaser trailer for the Wes Anderson reboot

    You know, it could work.

  14. LYT

    I didn’t mind the first Sex and the City movie, but the trailer for part 2 is scarily reminiscent of Ishtar.

  15. Speaking of Spider-Man, we finally have a teaser trailer for the Wes Anderson reboot:
    He’d be my pick for a director. It’d be a dream come true for me if in ten years we have Wes Anderson’s SPIDER-MAN opening a month before Martin Scorsese’s BATMAN.

    And please keep the stupid patron stories coming!

  16. Ken Hanke

    I didn’t mind the first Sex and the City movie

    I did. (Yeah, I sat through it with Justin out of solidarity.)

  17. Ken Hanke

    It’d be a dream come true for me if in ten years we have Wes Anderson’s SPIDER-MAN opening a month before Martin Scorsese’s BATMAN

    Yes, well…I won’t go into that.

    And please keep the stupid patron stories coming!

    It didn’t happen to me personally, but I was privy to a woman screaming (over a technical problem), “You’ve ruined Christmas!” Maybe it’s just me, but I figure if this could ruin Christmas, Christmas was on shaky ground already.

    I’m sure there are others, but nothing else occurs to me at the moment. Well, there was the old geezer who demanded the manager sit through Babel so she could see “the kind of crap you’re showing here.”

  18. I was privy to a woman screaming (over a technical problem), “You’ve ruined Christmas!”
    You seem to have this odd thing in America called ‘the Christmas Day release’, which would seem to indicate that people in the US go to the cinema on Christmas Day. I don’t think most of our cinemas are even open on Christmas Day here, and the notion that it would be a prime time to open a holiday blockbuster would seem bizarre indeed.

  19. Ken Hanke

    You seem to have this odd thing in America called ‘the Christmas Day release’, which would seem to indicate that people in the US go to the cinema on Christmas Day

    It is indeed a huge moviegoing day here. I have seen even the back parking lot — normally the exclusive province of romantic trysts and drug deals — packed at the theater where I worked. Apparently, this is something that started with Jewish communities and just spread. My own theory is that on the whole we really don’t like spending a lot of time with our families. This gives us the illusion of spending time — not talking and in a dark room for a couple hours — without actually having to interact. Consider, too, that it sets a deadline for when the amassed family leaves the house. Afterwards — if everyone has taken his or her own car — they can go about their business without the awkwardness of being the first to indicate they’ve had enough holiday family cheer.

  20. Jessamyn

    Your blurb about letting teenagers into R-rated movies brought back memories of going to see Monty Python’s Meaning of Life with my friends, all of whom were older than I was. I was shocked when the clerk wanted to see an I.D. – I wasn’t a big moviegoer, and it hadn’t occurred to me that somebody would censor Monty Python viewing in California in the ’80s! They let me use the phone at the counter to call my dad, but although he said that of course it was okay, they said he had to come down and say it in person. I have this great memory of him pulling up in front of the theater, hopping out, stomping in, and snarling, “Of course she can go in!” I was afraid he was irritated at me but no, he was just appalled at a system that didn’t mind me seeing any amount of violence but screeched to a halt over bare breasts.

    Go dad!

  21. I think the first R-rated movie I ever saw was David O. Russell’s THREE KINGS, when I was about eleven or twelve. I remember it being the film that turned me around on George Clooney, who I had ill will towards at the time (due to Batman and Robin).

  22. Ken Hanke

    Boy, do you guys make me feel old. My first encounter with ratings of any kind was on Barbarella. No one knew what that “R” in the newspaper ad was, and there was no explanation. Well, I’d been waitingto see this ever since I’d seen the Life (maybe it was Look) magazine spread. So come that Saturday my parents dropped me off downtown to see Barbarella — whereupon I found that I couldn’t get in. I had to walk home. I was not amused. I didn’t see an R rated film until MASH in 1971.

  23. LYT

    I grew up in Ireland, where the ratings were FAR more restrictive — most movies that would be PG-13 here were “16 and over” there, while R’s were “18 and over.”

    Yet movies of all kinds were shown uncut on network TV. Thus, many of the most memorable viewing moments of childhood involved staying up till 11 watching stuff like “Excalibur.”

  24. Ken Hanke

    Yet movies of all kinds were shown uncut on network TV

    I’m assuming you mean the Republic and not Ulster, since those ratings sound a little harsher than the UK ones. Still, what you’re talking about is reminiscent of the UK ratings and what gets shown on TV, since not only has the X-rated The Devils been shown on TV, but so has the infamous “Rape of Christ” sequence from the film — and that has never gotten past any theatrical censor anywhere.

  25. LYT

    Republic, yes…but we got UK TV as well. Funnily enough, the BBC actually did occasionally censor for language, notably Risky Business and Beverly Hills Cop, both times for the f-word. RTE left them uncut.
    Another quirk of UK ratings is that movies would get stricter ratings on video than in theaters, under the notion that kids have a harder time distinguishing fantasy from reality when it’s on TV.

  26. Ken Hanke

    under the notion that kids have a harder time distinguishing fantasy from reality when it’s on TV

    Yeah, tell that to the kids who were insisting that the Texas Chainsaw remake on the big screen was “real.” You know, I could almost see the logic in this idea if they were talking broadcast TV, but video?

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