I don’t need to see two seniors walking down the hallway with Starbucks cups in their hands to know that I’m living in a grossly commercial part of the world. I’ve got a Target that was just built by my house, my earnings are practically made out in Chipotle gift cards, and my Chemistry class from two years ago insisted that someone bring in a bottomless cardboard pit of Einstein bagels for “breakfast” every Thursday morning (we could’ve made a lunch and dinner out of it, too).
So, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s clear that small town Lake Bluff is getting the corporate bug. I’m told all of this makes me better off. Capitalism will work its invisible hand, and Mr. Clegg will still have something to teach my Economics class. I’m good with that (as artisan as I try to seem, I like having an iPhone).
I should actually say that I accept that fact most of the time. Regardless of quantity or efficiency, there’s just something my nostalgic side (or what will be my nostalgic side) doesn’t want to let go: movies. You can still find good ones (and stupid ones), but seeing the track we’re on, my question doesn’t revolve around how we’ll produce them, but rather around how we’ll be experiencing them.
In Chicago, we’re lucky to have some plainly cool theaters: the Music Box downtown, the Tivoli in Downers Grove, even the cozy Libertyville theater. One or two projectors, one modest lobby, and those block letters on the program board above the doors outside that just radiate entertainment. One thing separates them, however, from their corporate bug counterparts: they’re small. Intimacy doesn’t mix well with profit. When your night calls for theater first out of convenience and movie later, you’re bound to go bigger. The Marcus Cinema in Vernon Hills or the Century 12 in Evanston are both options, but in my eye, no three letters keep popping up more than AMC.
Well, if it wasn’t already the biggest theater name in the Lake Forest high schooler’s mind, now it is. The Vernon Hills Showplace 8 was a common epicenter for film through middle school and, admittedly, still is for me. As far as chains go, it’s simple. You enter through the front with the concession stand ahead of you and two hallways going a simple left and right to bring you to the building’s ten or so theaters. It has the big movie names; it probably won’t choose to show Hell or High Water over Pete’s Dragon. Consistency’s the game, and flare isn’t something it goes for. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but it apparently wasn’t enough for… developers, or town commerce boards, or whoever decides to build these things. We, as in Lake Bluff, supposedly needed a movier-movie theater, and in April of last year, Westfield Hawthorn Mall came out with the AMC Hawthorn 12. Less than a minute away from the 8.
In case you’re wondering why on Earth you’d choose the 12 over the 8 when it’s only a half of a mile down Waukegan Road, it would help to understand that the 12 has simply been designed to outmatch its nearly adjacent AMC partner. A list of amenities at the 12 includes a touchpad to reserve seats, an escalator that goes up to a humongous lobby overlooking the parking lot, the fanciest digital vending machine I’ve ever seen, and, the crown jewel, plush reclining seats for each of the theaters. For me, it doesn’t say “the future of movies” as much as it does “come here before we spill soda over everything.”
Okay, I’m skeptical, and I’m skeptical for the reason that, on the business side of it, nothing could possibly be expected to set the 12 apart from the 8 except for the comfort gimmicks of the former. Some people will be inclined to stick with the 8. It can be as simple as price; if I’m hearing him correctly, I think my brother paid nearly twenty dollars for a ticket at the 12. You can figure you pay more to get more. If you’re on my boat, though, we’re probably thinking the same thing: more of what, exactly?
I’m not the whole consumer population, and I don’t know what everybody likes. I can, however, inquire of what we’re expected to like. Does AMC think we look for good movies or fancy chairs to watch them in? It’s the only way theaters feel they can compete, but there’s a point where that competition becomes so ridiculous that it works against the very service these theaters are trying to provide. How do I feel more on edge sinking into the cushy leather of a Hawthorn 12 chair than when I’m sitting in the Music Box with my gym shoes stuck to the floor by a mysterious grime? I’m not saying that you should sit on nails to watch Rogue One, but the Music Box does have an atmosphere that the AMC 12 doesn’t. It feels like the theater at the Music Box–a living and breathing snapshot of a different time–is just as much of the feature as the movie itself. It’s at an age and a level of wisdom where it doesn’t have to prove anything.
The 12, of course, is a year old. It takes a while to get used to, but during that while, it doesn’t look like the theater will mean to be timeless more than it means, unintentionally, to be temporary. At the 12, the movie’s trying to pull me into its orbit while the room is keeping me in its own, cup-holders and mechanized chairs and all, for the sake of the attraction. I watched Casablanca on the same screen I watched Jurassic World; no carpet, footrest, or balcony could distract me from telling the difference between those two, but the Hawthorn 12 comes very close to doing just that.
Keep in mind that the experience is on the screen; you can lay down on a nice couch in your living room any time. When I climbed into my friend’s car to leave to see Jason Bourne, I was almost glad that he preferred the Showplace 8. I can’t remember where I watched the first three films in the series; I only remember that I saw them and that I liked them enough to see whatever came afterwards, and I mean see as the operative word here. True, in the long run, I might not remember paying an extra ten bucks for a B-movie either. But what the 12 tries to milk out of ten bucks might keep me from remembering the B-movie at all.
Maybe there will never come a time when the lure of cinema will pull us Lake Foresters all the way to Downers Grove. AMC is accessible, I’ll give it that. But maybe that’s the only thing we should appreciate it for, and maybe that value should be the only thing for which the company strives.
My counter-offer: I’ll go to whatever theater drops the price of a ticket back down to a nickel.