I've been going to the movies for a really, really long time.
The first flick I saw in a theater was Disney's animated version of The Jungle Book, released in 1967, when I was six.
Since then, I've experienced plenty of rude behavior by fellow attendees — and in recent years, the problems have escalated, especially when it comes to talking during the film. My theory (and it's hardly unique): So many people are accustomed to talking while watching flicks in their home theaters that they can't switch off their yaps in a public setting.
Still, what I experienced this weekend at the AMC Highlands Ranch 24 stands out as my most annoying movie-going experience to date.
And it was a family affair.
On Saturday night, my wife and I went to a screening of The Martian, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. Like pretty much everyone else in America, we'd heard good things about it and were eager to discover if it lived up to the hype — and it's a testament to the quality of the picture that I was still able to enjoy it despite the circumstances of its screening.
But it was a close call.
We wound up in seats next to a family of four: a mom, a dad and two boys. Approximate ages of the latter: five and seven.
Were they too young to handle the movie? Well, there were a couple of fucks in it, not to mention a key role for bags full of feces and some moderately intense life-or-death scenes. But the specifics of what took place on screen struck me as being less of a factor than the pace. The movie is well over two hours in length, with plenty of passages in which Damon is seen trying to solve problems alone.
In my opinion, kids in the five-to-seven range with longer-than-average attention spans would have been able to handle the movie just fine. But this pair didn't qualify.
Minutes after the movie started, they began to squirm, then talk aloud (no whispers for them) about how they needed to get a drink...or go to the bathroom...or whatever. And their parents happily enabled them. Members of the clan went back and forth at least six times, by my estimate, with mom joining them once or twice and dad heading off on his own at one point to buy more popcorn, presumably in the hope that additional snacks would shut them up.
After a while, even their parents grew frustrated — or maybe they finally noticed the heavy sighs my wife and I emitted each time we had to move out of their way. But while mom and dad finally said "no" to the trips out of the theater, they allowed the kids to stand up throughout much of the show and offer them one excuse after another why they should be allowed to split — leaving us constantly on edge about them passing through again.
Why didn't we move? For one thing, the theater was crowded, with the main seats available in the front rows, where we would have had to crane our necks and look up Matt Damon's nose for the duration. For another, the key to our car slid out of my pocket during one of the boys' first passages, and I couldn't find it by feeling around amid the popcorn fragments and spilled soda residue on the floor. That meant we could either use the flashlight function on my wife's iPhone to find it, thereby pissing off a bunch of other people, or try to make the best of things.
We chose the second course, and the situation eventually improved, albeit slightly, when the youngest of the boys fell asleep about twenty minutes from the end of the movie. But his older sibling remained standing, going from parent to parent in a persistent but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to convince them that he should be allowed to climb over us again.
When the final credits finally started to roll, i climbed under the seat to find my key while imaging a planet to which I could banish the family we'd gotten to know all too well.
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It'd have to be at least one solar system away.