PGS Imagination Connoisseur, Willow Yang, sounds off in another Willow Talk blogpost – but this time, she’s not critiquing Star Trek. Instead she’s got a bone to pick about reserved seating in theaters.
A forewarning: this is a bit of a rant. You’ve recently on your show (Robservations #258) read a letter from someone expressing their grievances towards assigned seating. I can’t resist: I just want to defend assigned seating and why it has improved the moviegoing experience for me. Of course, I fully respect the opinions of the letter writer: I’m glad to hear a perspective that’s different from mine, and I do think that they have some very valid concerns. I would, however, like to push back a bit on the notion that showing up to a theatre early in order to get a good seat is part of the proper moviegoing experience.
Does anyone still wait several weeks for snail mail instead of picking up the phone or writing an email because that used to be part of the communication experience? Does anyone still sit on a boat for several months to get from one continent to the next instead of boarding a plane because that used to be part of the travel experience? Okay, I’m being a little facetious here, but you get my point; I just feel people can be quite recalcitrant to change, even if that change is clearly beneficial. Moreover, having no assigned seating is very much an American (and unfortunately, Canadian) experience: from my understanding, a lot of other countries have implemented assigned seating decades before we have here in North America.
I have heard more than a few personal anecdotes of bad experiences with assigned seating, and I do understand the frustrations that other people have expressed. But do you know what else sucks? Having to sit in the front row with my head tilted backwards for 2.5 hours during Les Misérables and feeling like I’m about to throw up because the irresponsible douchebag who had my ticket showed up late. I took one bus, one skytrain, waited outside the theatre for over half an hour, only to have a shitty experience like this. And it isn’t just an issue of not entrusting someone to buy my ticket either. For me, part of the magic of the theatre-going experience is in its communality: I want to be able to share the moment with my friends, to be able to sit beside them and see their reactions to something epic that’s happening on screen.
Unfortunately, the lack of assigned seating has often made this difficult. It’s hard to gage how crowded a theatre will be and hence, how early to show up. I hardly ever go to a big blockbuster on the opening weekend because I know that the theatre will be jam-packed; however, even after waiting a couple of weeks, quite often, we still encounter problems with finding decent seats where several of us can sit together. I went to the first Hobbit movie and The Force Awakens with my friends 2-3 weeks after the movies had been released, and on both occasions, we still weren’t able to sit as a group because almost all of the seats were already taken: we had to watch the movie in separate parts of the theatre.
The current cost of tickets at Cineplex (which is currently the only theatre chain near Vancouver) is $14, and that’s not accounting for 3D, which the horrid company is always trying to force onto the customers. If I’m paying over $14 for a ticket I expect at least a decent experience. The nearest theatre to me is in Burnaby, which is a 30-minute bus ride away (I don’t drive). That is about an hour round trip.
Of course, the piece-of-shit Cineplex always plays about 30 minutes of shampoo and cereal commercials in front of a movie. Add in entering the theatre at least half an hour early in order to get a decent seat where I’m not going to get vertigo from staring up at the screen with my head tilted back, and you’re looking at easily 2 extra hours of time being spent to watch a movie theatrically. Pardon my language, but that’s just fucking bullshit in my opinion. For the amount of time that I’ve expended going to a theatre, I could have probably watched two movies at home for half the price.
My apologies for this rant. I hope that I don’t come across as attacking anyone who didn’t have a good experience with assigned seating; I do really appreciate people coming forward to present alternative points of view that I might have not considered. I just want to give the reasons as to why I’m personally a passionate advocate for assigned seating, which I think is the best thing to happen since sliced bread. I can once again trust someone to buy my tickets for me without fearing that they’d show up late; I can sit together with my friends and share the viewing experience with them during the increasingly-rare number of occasions that we are able to meet up; I can save a decent chunk of my time and not have to sit inside a dark room for an hour waiting for the movie to play. Yes, there are definitely outstanding issues, and I do hope that theatres will look into them and try to resolve them further down the road, but overall, I see assigned seating as the right step in making the moviegoing experience more positive for the audience and keeping theatres alive in the years to come.