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Moviegoers speak up

Attendance is down at theaters. Could it be the prices, the parking, the patrons? Let's ask.

January 03, 2006|John Horn and Scott Collins | Times Staff Writers

BEEGEE WILLIAM figures he sees a movie nearly every day -- but always at home. The 34-year-old DJ says he hasn't seen a movie in a theater since "Spider-Man." That was 2002.

It's the cost, it's the ads, it's the kids (other people's, that is). "This lady couldn't control her kids ... they kept pulling my date's hair." It's what William sees as the deterioration of the whole moviegoing experience.

He isn't alone. As the box office closed out 2005, moviegoing was down 7% with about 1.4 billion tickets sold for the year. While studio executives disagreed over why theater attendance declined (some blamed the movies themselves, others cited the allure of DVDs and video games, and several others said the 7% slide was statistically meaningless), a number of industry leaders did concede that exhibition must improve if Hollywood is to prosper -- stadium seating, in other words, is simply not enough.

Consider the world premiere of "King Kong," where everything should have gone right. During the first five minutes of the first showing of Peter Jackson's movie in Manhattan, the sound was out of sync by about half a second. Noise from an adjacent theater shuddered through the walls, ruining the film's few quiet moments. These sorts of technical glitches are all too common.

Then there are the commercials. In-theater advertising spending was up 18%, and is projected to grow 15% annually through 2008. The average ticket price (now about $6.40 nationally) has gone up every year since 1993, even though real median household income has declined for five straight years.

Good movies, of course, will always trump bad theaters. ("Star Wars" and "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" did just fine before there were cup holders.) But what's to be done until the next record-breaking blockbuster arrives? Here's what local movie fans had to say:

'A special treat'

Names: Steve Tatham, 45, with wife Mary Manofsky, "late 30s," and their two kids: son Cole, 6, and daughter Claire, 4

Hometown: Glendale

Occupation: Steve is a writer, Mary's an actress

Interviewed at: Burbank AMC 16

Went to see: "Cheaper by the Dozen 2"

Are ticket prices too high? "When you get four people, it's an evening out," Mary said. They spent $8 apiece for the adults and $7 for the kids.

How much will you spend today? Steve: "$30 for this" (the movie); Mary added that they had a meal at the Hard Rock before hitting the movie. Mary: "So it was $80 at least."

On parking issues: "Not in Burbank!" Mary said. "That's the nice bonus about Burbank."

Are movies too long? "It depends on the movie, really," Steve said.

On preshow commercials: "Trailers I don't mind," Steve said. "Commercials, I'm not so crazy about."

Is the theater clean and comfortable? "This theater is good. I like the stadium seating. With the kids, there's nobody sitting in front of them who's too tall," she said.

Can the service improve? The couple singled out the ArcLight for its superior service. Steve: "It's worth it to pay for it." Steve was still irate about the time, years ago, he had a bad experience at the movie theater in the Beverly Center: "Seconds after the movie ended -- the credits hadn't even begun! -- they turned on the lights and started cleaning up."

Are fellow moviegoers too rude? Steve: "It bothers me a lot." Mary: "He'll get up and move."

If current movies were available on DVD, would you come to the theater? "This is an experience we wanted to have" as a family, Steve said. Mary: "It was a special treat."

How often do you go? "As a family, about once a month."

'Big-screen experience'

Name: Cynthia Bailey, 42, daughter Breanna, 12, and friend Autum Phillips, 12

Hometown: Los Angeles

Occupation: Cynthia is a driver for the Culver City School District.

Interviewed at: Magic Johnson Theatres

Went to see: "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"

Are ticket prices too high? "Yes," Cynthia says. "It's going to cost $27. I think it should be like $15 [for three people] -- $5 per ticket."

Parking issues? "Over here? No. I don't worry too much about the parking."

On preshow commercials: "I try to get here a little later so I don't have to watch them. I don't like the trailers. Too many trailers. I guess it is a good idea to watch the trailers and say, 'I want to see that.' "

On the concessions: "I love the food, but it costs too much."

Are fellow moviegoers too rude? "No. I never had that experience."

Is the theater clean and comfortable? "I always enjoy the experience here. Staff is nice. They keep it clean. Security is good."

Are movies too long? "I like long movies. If it's a good movie I want to see it ... I'll sit for three hours."

If current movies were available on DVD, would you come to the theater? "I wanted to see this on the big screen. There is nothing like a big-screen experience. I'm waiting to see 'King Kong' on the big screen. Some movies you can wait for the DVD, like 'Cheaper by the Dozen,' but when the subject in the movie is real big, you want to see that on the big screen."

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