When I was in high school, John Grisham released a legal thriller that dealt with the legality and morality of executing a man who’d spent decades on death row. That book is called The Chamber and, while it is a good book, it’s not what I’m discussing today. Oh no, it’s not.
(For those of you going out to watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 72, this is for you. I do hope you enjoy.)
Years ago, I went with a group of friends to see the second Harry Potter movie on opening night. I’d seen the first movie and thought it was ok, though I’ll admit, I have no desire to read about boy wizards, especially at the pace I read. There were four of us: me, my best friend Dan, his girlfriend at the time, and my ex-girlfriend. (I have a remarkably friendly relationship with both of my ex-girlfriends, but that’s beside the point.) We went to an 11PM show, so there wouldn’t be any kids around. In fact, most of the theater was filled with college students.
So, we sat in the crowded theater and waited for the lights to dim. There was an excitement with the crowd, but all I wanted was to see a good movie. About an hour in, I noticed something peculiar. I couldn’t quite hear what Harry and his used-to-be-tactician-but-now-Lou-Costello-scared friend Ron were saying. I didn’t really know why tactician Ron was suddenly a coward when he’d been the chessmaster in movie one. In fact, there were a lot of things I just didn’t know. It wasn’t a loss of knowledge from not reading the books, it was simply that I couldn’t hear what was being said half the time.
This wasn’t a case of someone talking, this was a case of everyone talking. During the movie, while the plot was advancing, people were talking. Not five, not ten, not even twenty people. If there were 300 people in that theater, 299 of them were talking. On the show Firefly, Shepard Book said that the Special Hell was reserved for “child molesters and people who talk in the theater.” Well, that night, a lot of them got their tickets to the Special Hell. Having already laughed at the movie Life of Brian, I was doomed in advance.
It wasn’t even occasional talking or people asking questions about what was going on. Dan and his then-girlfriend had an interesting exchange a few weeks later when we went to see Fellowship of the Ring:
“I think that fire and smoke monster Len told us about is coming up.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right. What was that thing called?”
“I don’t know. You think I should ask him?”
“Yeah, ask him.”
I could contribute to a conversation in Fellowship of the Ring, but not with Harry Potter. I’d never read any of his books and I doubt I ever will. Why? Because people in the theater want to quote lines along with the characters, but either start before or after the character, so I only hear half of what is going on. Because I don’t care for boy wizards, especially when they live in worlds that can’t decide if they’re urban fantasy or Middle-Earth.
I came to dread that movie before I was over, not because of the movie, but because I was a few weeks away from The Lord of the Rings being in theaters and was terrified that people would fill those theaters and talk just as much. They would talk and talk and talk and I would miss out of a movie I really wanted to see. I’d already missed half of the audio in a movie I’d hoped would be good.
When the movie was over, we retreated back to my ex-girlfriend’s car. There, I was surrounded by voices amazed at how good the movie was, how much the movie strayed from the book, how much the liked such and such scene they were afraid would get cut out. Then Dan, bless his heart, realized they hadn’t heard from someone in their group. Out of kindness, he asked me what I thought.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “I couldn’t hear half the movie from all the people talking.”
“Really? Who was talking?”
“I didn’t hear anyone talking.” I admit, my friends were all involved in this conversation, but I can’t remember who said what.
“That’s because you were talking too.”
“Really?” I also admit, people don’t realize a lot of the things they do unless someone points it out. I can be a stubborn ass. I also have what I like to call super hearing.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “There wasn’t a person in that theater, aside from me, who didn’t talk at some point during the movie. Some were trying to recite lines. Some people were having trivia night. Some people were talking about what parts of the books they like the most. But not me. I haven’t read the books, so I didn’t know what was going to happen in advance. I didn’t pay for a ticket to see something I’d already read. I paid for a ticket to see Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Instead, I got to see Harry Potter and the Chamber of Shut the Hell Up.”
In all fairness, I was a bit mean about all this. Even bringing it up again seems mean, but I know my friends meant well and they were just wanting to share something they love with me. Instead, the way I watch movies in the theater fundamentally changed. I now have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to talking during a movie. When I saw Super 8, there were two occasions when I almost went to find an usher to throw people out of the theater–one of which was a classmate I know by name!
Previews I can be more lenient with, if only because you never know what you might get. Once I saw a preview for a werewolf movie that had Within Temptation music in the background. It looked kind of cool and I was thinking, “I need to see this movie.” The first word of the title popped onto the screen: Blood. Ok, Blood, werewolf movie, I get it. And. Sure, you can’t just have blood, there’s got to be something else. CHOCOLATE. In the middle of a filled theater, I blurted out at full volume, “What? That’s got to be the worst title for a movie ever!” Luckily, no one else in the theater at the time had visited The Chamber because everyone started laughing.
My ultimate point is this: I know a great many of you are going to go see a Harry Potter movie, or Captain America, or The Dark Knight Rises, or The Golden Hollow: Mind & Machine (A guy can dream, right?). Not everyone in these audiences has read every Harry Potter book, every Captain America comic, seen every Christopher Nolan movie, or read the entire Len Berry collection. For those people, they just want to go see a good movie, even if they never read those books or watch any of that guy’s weird movies. They just want to have a good time. For those people and for yourselves when the roles are changed, I have only one piece of advice, which I offer out of friendship, kindness, and a warm heart:
Shut the Hell Up. (And I hope you enjoy the movie.)