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The Movie Theatre and Cinema Survival Guide

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It's happened to you a million times. You sit down for a nice relaxing evening with your girlfriend, boyfriend, family, and/or friends when someone comes up with the fantastic idea to go out and see a movie. Going to the movies can be a fun way to spend the evening, but if you're not careful, it can end up being a total waste of time and money. Contained in this entry are some helpful hints for surviving a trip to the movies.

Step One - Picking a Movie

This is by far the most important step to actually enjoying the evening. If the movie you watch is terrible, nothing else will make up for it. The first thing to do is to look in the newspaper. Most decent metropolitan newspapers will include a weekly movie section containing reviews and show times. The reviews can be a helpful thing, although be warned ahead of time that some film critics are total airheads and you can get a better opinion by reading the nutrition facts off of a box of cereal. A good source for information on pretty much every movie ever made is The Internet Movie Database which will tell you not only who is in the movie and who worked on it, but will also give you the opinions of actual people regarding those movies.

Two important things to consider are the genre of the movie and its rating. Genres are pretty easy to understand; you're not going to go with the guys to see a family movie, nor are you going to take the kids to an action film. The rating is also important to pay attention to, as it tells you how much violence, swearing, and nudity there are in the film. Obviously, a film containing lots of these elements is going to be very appealing to the guys while it's probably not a good idea to take little Johnny and Grandma along to the same film. Rating systems vary from country to country but all work in basically the same way.

Now that you've found a good movie, it's time to choose a showing of the film. You can either look this information up in the newspaper or use a website such as Hollywood.com1. No matter which method you choose, you will find out (in very tiny print) what movies are showing at which cinemas and at what times they start. A typical listing will look like this:

(11:30 12:35 2:45 4:45 5:05 5:55) 6:45 8:10 9:15 10:00 11:20

The times enclosed in the parentheses are bargain matinees, and tickets for these shows are generally quite a bit cheaper than those that start later on in the evening; the bargain matinees are often half the price of evening shows. If you're very frugal (or broke), you can always opt for the very cheap second-run cinemas. Tickets here are usually insanely inexpensive no matter what time of the day the showing is, but the movies you're seeing have already left the first-run cinemas. This is a bonus if you missed its first run in the theatre or can't wait for the DVD to come out, but be warned ahead of time that the facilities at the second-run cinema will not be nearly as nice as those at the regular places (one theatre this Researcher went to even had a huge tear in the screen).

Now that you've picked the movie, the theatre, and the starting time, it's time to actually drive out to the theatre!

Step Two - Buying the Tickets

There are several options when it comes to buying your movie tickets. The traditional method is to buy them at the theatre itself. Once you pull into the parking lot, the first thing to do is to drive past the ticket window and see how long the lines are. If they look like they might take a while to get through, you might want to drop off a member or two of your party to stand in line while you park, thus saving you some time. When you actually get up to the ticket window, you talk to the clerk through a two-way speakerbox and buy your tickets. If the movie you want to see is sold out, you should have arrived there sooner. Buy tickets for a later show.

There are also a number of ways to buy your movie tickets over the telephone or Internet. The most popular of these are MovieFone and Fandango - these two sites, while selling tickets, also provide news, reviews and movie gossip. The theatre chain you decide to patronise may also have its own in-house pre-purchase system. Depending on the theatre you visit, it might be possible to pick up the tickets at an automated ticket-printer inside the lobby, thus avoiding the line outside. If the theatre does not have such a contraption, it will still be necessary to wait in the line, although if the movie you decide see is extremely popular, you have the advantage of not needing to worry about a sold-out showtime. Be warned, however, that these services may charge extra fees.

Step Three - Negotiating the Theatre Lobby

When you get inside the theatre, the first thing you must do is present your ticket to the ticket-taker. The term 'ticket-taker' is hopelessly outdated (but still in use, for some unknown reason) because the ticket-taker no longer actually takes your ticket. Either he will rip off half of the ticket and put it in a large box which doubles as a lectern, or he will do a number of other things, including punching a hole in the ticket, tearing the ticket, marking the ticket, and licking the ticket. (If he licks the ticket, complain to the management.) Then he will tell you that your movie is showing in the third theatre on the right, which is a fact that you will likely forget after buying refreshments.

The concession stand is where you buy hideously overpriced sweets, drinks, popcorn, and hotdogs. The secret of the movie theatre industry is that they are really in the business of selling you hideously overpriced snacks; the movie thing is just a front. What you should really do is sneak your own candy and soda into the theatre, but if you've forgotten to do that, here is a mini-guide to surviving the concession stand:

Sweets/Candy - This is generally safe to eat, as it can sit on a shelf for several months without adverse effect.

Drinks - Also generally safe to consume, although take a sip before leaving the drink stand to make sure that they're mixing the syrup into the carbonated water in the right ratio.

Popcorn - This is also fine unless you ask them to put the butter on it. This is not actually butter, but oil and grease that somehow taste like butter. Rumour has it that one of the key ingredients is nuclear waste. In short, stay away from the butter.

Hotdog - This is the true mystery item. Most likely the hotdogs are not all-beef, and you can count on the hotdogs not being remotely close to kosher either. If they're cooked on an angled metal rack with bars that move up and down to cook the hotdogs evenly, look at them closely; if they're wrinkled up like prunes, they've probably been there for quite some time. In short, stay away from the hotdogs at all costs.

Once you pay for the refreshments (and nearly die of shock from the total price), it's time to actually go into the theatre.

Step Four - Getting into the Actual Theatre and Watching the Movie

Now that you've made your way into the theatre, it's time to find a seat. If your theatre has stadium-style seating, you're in luck. What this means is that each row of seats is considerably higher than the row in front of it, thus giving every person in the cinema an excellent view of the screen (unless the person in front of you has a 12-foot-tall hairdo). Stadium seating is so nice that it's almost painful to go back into a regular cinema afterwards. Stadium-style cinemas also usually have one or both types of seats: recliners and love seats. The recliner does just that; it reclines when you lean on it. The love seat features cupholders and armrests that swing up out of the way, thus solving the century-old problem of how to make out with your boyfriend or girlfriend during the movie without ending up with an armrest-shaped bruise on your stomach the next morning.

Make your way to the seat, and try not to spill your refreshments all over the other patrons. This could lead to some very sticky arguments (in more ways than one). Once you've sat down, it's a very good idea to either turn off your pager or cell phone or put it on vibrate. Yes, it's important that you take these calls, but the other patrons will not take kindly to the cell phone blaring out a badly synthesised version of 'La Cucaracha' and you subsequently yelling into it that you can't hear the person very clearly and could they please speak up and no, you're actually in the movie right now. You're supposed to be relaxing, so turn the phone off.

And now the movie begins. First, there are the previews, which are supposed to entice you into seeing more movies. Then comes the trailer that tells you that yes, you are in Century Theatres and not the Edwards Cinemas down the street. After that come the trailers for the 16 sound and sound certification systems in use in the theatre, the loudest and most obnoxious of which is THX. The only purpose of these is to tell you that the theatre meets certain sound quality specifications.

And now the movie begins. Sit back, watch, and don't talk. Nothing annoys everyone else like a pair of people yapping away about nothing in particular.

1Please note that this website and many of the rest referenced throughout this entry are specific to the United States. In the United Kingdom, information can be obtained through the Internet Yellow Pages.

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