Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: Movie theatres suffering after pandemic

It struck me that there were only about 12 people in the whole theatre

I remember when I was a youngster living in a small bay community in Newfoundland, there was a movie theatre on the waterfront that was popular among the kids in the town.

To call it a movie theatre is probably a stretch by today’s standards.

It was little more than a fishing hut that was held up by multiple poles sticking out of the harbour that had been filled with folding chairs and had a movie projector pointed at a wall covered in sheets.

The movies that it showed were not exactly new releases either, but the place would fill up on Saturdays as people, mostly young, would gather to watch films and eat popcorn as the whole building would sway with the waves on windy days.

It was a rare form of entertainment in a town that had only two television channels, with one being a very fuzzy CBC, so people took advantage of the opportunity to gather and watch movies on a big screen, even if there was a possibility that the building they were watching the film in was likely to collapse into the harbour at any time.

I used to go to that “theatre” as often as I could afford it (it cost 25 cents to get in and another 10 cents for a bag of popcorn, but that was a lot of money at the time) and going to movies eventually became a big part of my life, especially after my family moved to bigger centres that had more modern theatres.

My father and I, who spent a great deal of time together cross-country skiing and hiking when I was a kid, used to go to lots of movies in Nanaimo in his final years as, due to his declining heath, there was little in the way of physical activities that he could do anymore.

We had to get to the theatre early as there was always a line up to buy tickets and popcorn and we had to get seats by the aisle as the seats were usually packed by movie-time and dad had to frequently go to the bathroom.

But after my father died in 2018, I had not set foot into a movie theatre again until last month when I went to see the new Avatar movie in 3D, which was quite a feast of sensory delights that I had not experienced in some time.

But it struck me that there were only about 12 people in the whole theatre, which I thought was quite odd for such a blockbuster of a movie.

But one of my nephews who went to see the movie with me explained that movie theatres have never fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic and that small audiences are now common.

Apparently, a lot of people invested in quite large and elaborate home entertainment systems with very big screens for their houses while cooped up during the pandemic, and now choose to watch movies at home where the costs are much less than going to a theatre and they don’t have to face all the hassle of going out.

The fact that they don’t have to sit within inches of other people, a directive that was drilled into us not to do during the pandemic, seems to also be a factor in keeping people away from theatres these days.

Judging by the small crowd at the Avatar movie I went to, this is having a devastating impact on the movie theatre industry.

Just last week, Regal Cinemas announced it is closing 39 more movie theatres across the United States.

The decision comes four months after its parent company Cineworld filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after the pandemic devastated the industry and public screenings.

It seems the theatre industry may be going the way of the video rental stores that were so prevalent decades ago.

I’m sure my father would not be pleased.

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