Sounds Like The Future

Long story short:

In the future, your movie-going experience will be drastically upgraded by noise-cancelling headphones that will not only block out the sounds of people eating popcorn, but will also provide superior sound quality.

Long story long: 

There’s been a lot of whining over the years about how everyone walks around with earbuds, disconnected from the world. What the social commentators fail to acknowledge here is how annoying the sounds of the world can be! Earbuds are a godsend, and if you try to take them away from us there can be no guarantees of your safety.

Twenty-somethings yapping on the bus? Earbuds. People chatting at the library in college when I was trying to study? Earbuds. Excessive office chit-chat that kills my productivity? Earbuds.

Current generation iPhone earbuds are perfectly adequate for negating the intrusive sounds of boys crying wolf, false alarms about the sky falling, and weeping over spilled milk. That is, provided they fit your ear – and they tit mine like a glove, which is like hitting three numbers of the Mega Millions genetic lottery. Not once have I had to listen to the godawful dreck they play at the gym, and that’s a good thing.

Better than standard earbuds are those heavenly specimens from the noise-cancelling phylum, Bluetooth species. The feeling of being liberated from the accidental tug of that white cord? Friend, if you could bottle that you could save the world.

They might nuzzle perfectly in your ear, as though they were made by little audio angels, or they might not. Maybe they dangle at the end of a white cord, or maybe they don’t.  Either way, the fact that we all walk around with earbuds stuck in our headpiece is a truism of modern life. We’re almost always listening to something. And, increasingly, people are reaching out for better audio options. Try turning on the TV without seeing a Beats Audio ad.

So we spend all this time consuming audio content, and have great headphone options available for a price, yet somehow, movie theaters are the dark side of the moon when it comes to great audio. I’m tempted to say great audio is a lost art when it comes to the movie houses of America, but I’m not sure this was it was ever found. Superior audio at the multiplex is more like an undiscovered country.

Even with the best sound quality, we’re still at the mercy of fellow audience members, whose human decency is always dubious at best. A $13 movie ticket should come with more insurance against the ignorance of others than that public service announcement that runs prior to the previews. You know the one, where a flamboyantly dancing box of candy gets shamed into a silence by an unrealistically united crowd of theater patrons.

I love going to the movies, but only when I’m not sitting near some guy who’s:

  • talking or texting,
  • coughing or sniffling,
  • loudly grazing on popcorn,
  • or digging like a backhoe for those last few Snowcaps.

It’s rare that the stars align for a hassle-free cinema experience, and that’s near the top of the list of reasons not to go to the movies. The other reasons are the cost, and the fact that going to the movies requires me to leave my apartment, which I try to do as infrequently as possible.

Can I politely ask someone to be quiet? Yes; but as a superhero’s alter-ego, do I try to avoid picking fights? Yes. As we all know, with great power comes great responsibility.

Hollywood hopelessly inflates film budgets with media buys to try to entice me to leave my house; if I go to the theater, the audio sounds like it’s being piped down a collapsed mine shaft; and the only assurance I have that I can enjoy the film in peace is a flimsy social contract, one that becomes null and void as soon as someone thinks it’s time for their audition for Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is incomprehensible.

Why not just let us use headphones?

Another honest day's work for Captain Obvious.

Another honest day’s work for Captain Obvious.

There should be a headphone jack in every arm rest. Yes, just like on an airplane. Better still, there should be a wireless signal broadcast for every film. Takes care of my ladies-behind-me-who-won’t-shut-up problem, and my long-neglected-movie-audio-experience problem. Two birds, one stone.

I know – who’s gonna pay for that? We will. We’ve done it before.

In 1993 we paid extra to see Jurassic Park in something called Dolby Digital. We didn’t know what Dolby Digital was, we just knew it was better, because it was new. Simple logic, right? We paid extra to see it in Dolby Digital, or we felt like total schmucks if we didn’t. We’ll pay a premium again, this time for the theater  that has the private audio option. Some will decline the option, but not in the same numbers that forego seeing a film in 3D. Simply put: all movies can be improved by great sound. Only a handful of movies really need to be seen in that luxurious third dimension.

I won’t pretend that this is some spark of pure genius on my part. Anyone who has writhed in agony as someone else a few rows back talk through an entire film has silently cried out for this development, even they they didn’t realize it. In fact, there are related offerings already in existence:

Leave it to a bad infomercials and decrepit airliners to almost, almost connects the dots. Why can’t some kindly stork swoop in to deliver this brainchild to the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago, or the ShowPlace ICON theater?

The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX, takes a novel approach to crowd control:

I applaud them for taking a stand, but ejecting talkers and texters is only a removal of the negative. It does nothing to improve the quality of the sound in the theater. Besides, I just don’t get down to Austin as often as I’d like.

Somehow, not one of the world’s ten most enjoyable movie theaters gives a thought to giving viewers a private or improved audio experience. It’s bizarre.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much hope for ever actually seeing this idea come to fruition because, like most old-economy dinosaurs, the movie industry is reticent to change. Theater owners are ever a curmudgeonly part of the equation. Just another reason to stay home, I guess. That and the fact that it costs about 3,000% more for two people to see a movie in theaters than to watch it at home.

Oh, well. One less reason to leave my apartment.


  1. bandyje

    Nothing is worse than the idiots who yell or holler out, “OH SHIT! Wait until you see this next part!” Thanks for letting me know guy — not like I wanted to enjoy the experience of seeing this movie for the first time at the low price of $37 per ticket.

    Why are movie tickets so damn expensive now? It must be that ‘dolby digital’ upcharge.

    I do have a solution to the above problem but it makes me sound like a no-life having recluse…which I guess I am since I am a new father with a 3 month old at home. Wait for it…Saturday morning/early afternoon movies, usually like half the price with a maximum of 10 people attending. Totally eliminates about 100% of your issues above as most people attending those times are like minded individuals who want to immerse themselves in the ear shattering sounds of Michael Bay inspired explosions. I can’t confirm this to be true but I swear they turn the audio up on those showtimes as if they know I’d like to be bleeding from the ears by the time I leave.

    • Matt

      There’s only one thing worse – nuclear war. Well, that, and carnies.

      Based on research I don’t actually need to do, movie ticket prices have increased due to the pork-barrel bloating of movie budgets. Studios have to recoup increasingly higher production costs, which have risen mainly due to the following:

      a.) the increased cost of SFX – those blue cat people in Avatar cost way more than those dwarves and sock puppets in Return of the Jedi.
      2.) Drastically increased marketing/advertising costs. Movie economics dictate an additional 30-50% being pumped into creating buzz. To compete with the myriad entertainment options available now, and to get people to actually get people to leave their homes, studios have to, in effect, buy their big opening weekend box office. It’s that, or have your movie flop, and totally get made fun of the next full moon when you’re at your super-posh Hollywood restaurant enjoying a steak made of human flesh (Hollywood execs are notoriously insecure, especially the Vampiric ones). That’s why there are so many sequels, remakes, and reboots – there’s presumably a built-in audience already, so the marketing spend can be less than if, say, you were trying to launch a franchise or tentpole summer movie.
      D.) The Illuminati.

      That’s actually a good suggestion. Don’t let anyone tell you that being a recluse is a bad thing. Your chances of getting eaten by a shark, hit by a car, or shot by Libyans in the mall parking lot go up exponentially when you leave the house. FACT.

      Okay, I ended up doing a quick bit of research. Turns out that the answer to increasing ticket prices is to attend all Friday night opening and poop your pants right after the previews.

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