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Op-Ed: Modern Moviegoing

by Robert Delany

Photography by Angela Wang

Surprisingly, even in the age of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, people still physically go to the movies.

According to the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), 1.32 billion people went to the movies in 2015 in the U.S. and Canada. The carefully coiffed ambiance of a movie theater is utterly bent on capturing the minds of moviegoers—the awe inspiring big screen, the booming ultra surround sound, the greasily satisfying concession stand—captivate audiences.

However, not all theaters are alike, and they have changed drastically in just the last few years. What is the most important and glaring difference, illuminating completely different philosophies? The seats.

Firstly, this is in regards to innovation. Regal Cinema’s theaters are always at the pinnacle of modern movie-going innovation. I grew up three minutes from a Regal Cinema theater, and spent countless hours marveling at the palatial movie going experience that Regal is known for. RPX, IMAX, Real 3D, HD 3D, every modern movie going innovation is pioneered by Regal.

It comes as no surprise that the Regal Fenway would be incredibly modern as well. Every seat in Regal Fenway is a recliner. Advertisements for the recliners are plastered all over the Regal website, on the walls of the theater itself, and Regal makes it clear that the old ways are gone for good.

Whenever I see these monstrous conventions of comfort, I am reminded of the floating chairs in the film Wall-E. All that is missing is an IV drip to pacify movie goers further. I counted: a mere 96 seats fit in one screening room. This may seem like a large number, but let us compare Regal Fenway to another theater before we dissect that figure.

On the Coolidge Corner Theatre website, it summarizes exactly how I would describe the theater: “Widely regarded as one of New England’s most beloved cultural landmarks, the Coolidge Corner Theatre is one of the nation’s most prominent independently operated movie theaters, run by the not-for-profit Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation.”

Coolidge is a classic old-style theater that worships film. They do not screen blockbusters; they do not screen super-hero films or the newest insipid romantic comedy. Coolidge is careful about what they screen, like new showings of the film Moonlight or Jim Jarmusch’s newest documentary Gimme Danger.

They constantly show classic films as well, like November screenings of Goodfellas and Howard the Duck—modern innovation be damned.

Now here comes the interesting difference in regards to theater seating. Coolidge has standard theater seats, nothing crazy, and in their large screening theater they can fit—read this part carefully—222 seats.

Compare that to the 96 of the Regal Fenway.

There are many factors that go into filling seats in a movie theater: location, timing, movie selection, age range, etc.

What, then, is illuminated by the different seating arrangements at the Regal Fenway and the Coolidge Corner Theatre?

It is a diametrically opposed philosophy on the very soul of a movie theater. Regal theaters are all about satisfying moviegoers with the newest technology. Regal wants to lambast the ears of the public with surround sound, to bombard the eyes with ultra 3D, and to pacify the body with the newest seats available. Regal is all about entertaining the public.

Coolidge satisfies moviegoers in a different way. All they are interested in is showing the best films available, whether modern or ancient, giving the public a comprehensive look at the very best films the industry offers. A majority of the public has no idea who Jim Jarmusch is, unfortunately, but Coolidge would rather screen his upcoming documentary (which I am incredibly excited about) than Doctor Strange.

I don’t mean to damn modern innovation—merely to try and show how different the same thing can be. A movie theater is not just a movie theater. To Regal, it is a temple of entertainment. To Coolidge, it is a repository for art.

You make your own decision on which you prescribe to. While you are deciding, I will be at Coolidge watching Gimme Danger.

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