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Opinion: The next time I want to see Timothée Chalamet, I’ll do it from the comfort of my couch

Editor’s Note: Sara Stewart is a film and culture writer who lives in western Pennsylvania. The views expressed here are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

Last week, I ditched work one day and went to a matinee at a local AMC theater. It was a  Timothée Chalamet movie, because statistically of course it was. “Dune: Part Two” was calling my name. There are few things this movie nerd loves more than a big, loud sci-fi fantasy epic on an IMAX screen.

Sara Stewart - Todd Thompson
Sara Stewart - Todd Thompson

As you’ve probably heard, the second installment of Denis Villeneuve’s opus is quite long, at two hours and 46 minutes. (Though arguably, that’s the new normal.) But I was ready for that. I’d read up on my optimal pee break moments. I had my popcorn (if not my collectible sex-toy popcorn bucket). I was fired up to go back to Arrakis. (CNN and the distributor of “Dune: Part Two” share a parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery.)

I took my reserved seat and sat down, waiting, like Nicole Kidman is always telling us, for the magic to happen.

Cut to 40 minutes after the start time on my ticket, when we were just watching the opening moments of Kidman’s PSA. Any expectation of “magic” had been sucked out of my soul long ago, starting with the braying Maria Menounos “Noovie” pre-show, cranked up loud enough to drown out any conversation with your friends.

Our actual show time then began with 10 minutes of aggressive ads, followed by a raft of trailers so extensive the entire audience began wearily half-laughing when yet another green preview screen popped up. But our giggles turned into stunned silence by the time we were treated to a second viewing of the trailer for “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.” Perhaps they thought it’d play more winningly the second time? Reader, it did not.

The sheer quantity of previews was obnoxious, but it wasn’t just that: Today’s trailers amount to seeing the majority of a movie’s big moments — long gone are the days of weird and mysterious previews that didn’t spell out every beat of a film. We had essentially watched 10 (or more) entire short films before the actual film we’d come to see. We were exhausted. And the opening credits for our movie hadn’t even rolled yet.

I don’t want to state the ass-numbingly obvious, but nobody wants to sit through more than half an hour of “content” before the nearly three-hour film they paid too much to see. It defies all logic to expect people to fork over more to be bombarded with ads and trailers they can’t mute or forward through the way they’d be able to do at home — where they can also sit on a comfier couch and eat better food. It’s as if big movie chains are responding to the dire warnings about the death of their industry by deciding they’ll simply force-feed their remaining audience as much monetizable property as possible.

I’d like to humbly suggest that they f**k off. What if we all take our movie theater dollars elsewhere — say, to pay to watch new releases at home, where you can nearly always get hold of them, even if it’s for $20 (still far less than what you’ll be paying if you buy even a single movie ticket and some concessions).

Will you miss out on the entrancing sight of Paul Atreides learning to ride a sand worm on an impossibly big screen? Tragically, yes. (It really is quite a cinematic moment.) But I’d argue if AMC, and the other theater chains, and Kidman, believe in delivering us the “magic” of the big-screen experience, the least they can do is make it less sadistic. Treat us like valued customers, not easy marks.

Despite everything I just said, I too still believe in the magic of movies. If you’re lucky enough to live near an Alamo Drafthouse, or another independent movie theater or small indie chain like Brooklyn’s Nitehawk, go give them all your money! Long live the fun movie theater experience, which is totally possible! It just seems like few developers outside of major urban centers think it’s a worthwhile investment. Better to let the crumbling 1980s theaters of the suburbs molder away with minimal improvements when absolutely necessary.

In a story last year, CNET’s Joan Solsman quoted an expert who summed up the pre-pandemic moviegoing most of us were more familiar with: “For generations, going to the movies meant ‘sitting in a sh*tty seat eating bad food, just to be able to watch the movie you want,’ said Bob Cooney, a location-based entertainment industry expert. Like airlines that get away with a punishing customer experience because flying is the only way to get from one far-flung place to another, theaters enjoyed cushy, long-lasting theatrical exclusives that were sacrosanct before the pandemic.”

But I don’t think that experience has fundamentally changed. Even if you’re going to see a new release in a state-of-the art IMAX or Dolby theater, you’re still going to be expected to absorb as much ad content (and yes, that includes trailers!) as they feel they can get away with.

Still, I’m sure it’ll make you happy to hear AMC saw a 23% increase in revenue in 2023, growing to $4.81 billion from $3.91 billion the year before. “AMC reported strong results for both the fourth quarter and full year of 2023, once again exceeding Wall Street’s consensus expectations,” said AMC CEO Adam Aron, whose salary is just shy of $24 million. (Something tells me that guy’s never been forced to sit through Noovie.)

I’ll be curious to see what the tipping point is for big cinema chains — will they push their audiences into a boycott, or call off the advertising onslaught? If AMC and their competitors know what side their popcorn is buttered on, the next time a Timothée movie is out, they won’t make us wait an hour to see him.

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