I’ve spent quite a few years of my life working in the small town of Drayton Valley. We also know of my love for the movies. Now, Drayton Valley does have a movie theatre. It’s so close, I don’t know why I haven’t gone to it more in my life. The Cardium Theatre is your typical small town theatre. One screen, not exactly state-of-the-art, you buy your tickets at the concession stand. The big Hollywood releases rarely open in it. They’ll come to town about two or three weeks after they come out in the big cities. So now, as I drive past it every day on the way to work again, I keep asking myself why I haven’t taken advantage of this theatre in my own backyard more often.
The last movie I saw there was The Lion King, about 10 years ago. I had just gotten my driver’s license, my sister and her best friend wanted to see it again, so I volunteered to drive them down. And then, rather than wander aimlessly around Drayton while I waited for the movie to end, I decided to watch it, too. I don’t remember much about the inside of the theatre. Substandard sound system, a good enough screen. It really didn’t compare to the first time I saw it at the Famous Players in West Edmonton Mall, with its DTS sound and larger-than-life screen.
But now, as I gripe about the movie theatres in West Edmonton Mall now charging upwards of $12 for a guy to see a movie, the Cardium is really starting to be a more attractive alternative, mainly because it still charges just $8. And they even got lucky enough to have the premiere of Spider-Man 2 this past Wednesday. So, I don’t know.
I guess movie theatres along the lines of the Cardium never really held appeal for me. I’m always sucked in by the glitz and glamour of the fire-breathing dragon at Silver City in West Edmonton Mall. The only time I frequented a movie theatre similar to the Cardium was when I was attending Augustana, and Camrose’s Bailey Theatre was just a 15-minute walk away. Now, the Bailey has stood in Camrose for decades, if not a century. My Dad told me the tale of how my grandparents went there when they were dating. And it was the first movie theatre I ever went to that actually had a balcony. I loved sitting front and centre in the balcony, although I ever got to do it once. Most of my friends enjoyed sitting right in the very front row of the whole theatre, or at the very far side of the balcony. Nope, I always believed that the best place to watch a movie was front-row-centre of the balcony, and the one time I did it, I was proven right.
Actually, I’ll never forget that one time. It was during Disney’s 1997 re-release of The Little Mermaid. (Jeez, how come these all revolve around Disney movies?) I remember it mainly because of the walk up there. On my way out, I ran into one of my female acquaintances. I told her that I was off to see The Little Mermaid and she said, “Wow, Mark, you are so cool.” One of only about three times in my life that a member of the opposite sex has branded me “cool.”
The last time I was in one of these “small town movie theatres” was in my closing days in Japan, when I was touring Nagano. There was one of these small town movie theatres just around the corner from my hostel, so I thought I’d go see this little movie everyone was talking about called The Matrix Reloaded. Even though it was a small town movie theatre on the other side of the world, it still had that small town movie theatre vibe to it. No balcony in sight, so my programming given to me by my friends in Camrose kicked in and sat right the very front row of the whole theatre. And it was good.
So, now, I’m reflecting on all my small town movie theatre experiences. Surely, it’s still a large part of the movie industry. They all haven’t gone out of business. The Cardium obviously still ekes out a living. Why aren’t they publicized more? Why do people like me shun them for the theatres of the big city?
I’m guessing it has something to do with the bad reputation that most small town movie theatres get. The Bailey in Camrose was notorious for messed up sound and forgetting to change lenses, thus causing distorted pictures. My friends often suggested that maybe I should set up some kind of independent organization that does quality control for movie theatres; go from town to town and make sure that the sound systems and picture quality are of optimal quality. It was then that I had to remind my friends that George Lucas already does this. It’s called the Theatre Alignment Program (TAP) and it operates as a subdivision of THX. Maybe you’ve stayed to the end credits of a movie and seen the disclaimer: “If you experienced any problems with this movie at this theatre, call this number.” That’s TAP at work. If you call that number, then the THX people will call up that theatre and straighten out the staff. Sadly, though, films have to participate in this program. The disclaimer at the end of the credits means the film is a participant. I had one friend at Augustana, after I told him about this, he then stayed to the end of the credits of every movie he saw at the Bailey, looking to see if the film he just saw was part of TAP.
But perhaps my friends had a point. Perhaps it would be nice if an independent organization took care of this, rather than requiring a film to be part of the program. But then, for those first few years, I would be struggling to find legitimacy for my program and ugh. It’d be a tough row to hoe.
Nope. Instead, it would be easier if I just opened up my own small town movie theatre and showed them how it would be done. It would be a completely tricked out movie theatre, with a THX-approved digital sound system and the maximum sized screens for maximum enjoyment. Only problem with that, though, is I’d probably have to start charging the $12 per ticket to pay for it all, and that would take away from the small town prices.
So, I sit as I always have been. Planning excursions into Edmonton to catch the latest movie when, if I just wait a few weeks, I know it’ll be in my own backyard soon enough. But I keep going into Edmonton. Perhaps I do it because it takes time and planning. That, then, makes every movie I see an event. And we all need more events in our lives.