Once upon a time, during cinema's Golden Age of the 1920s and '30s, movie theaters were palaces in both name and atmosphere. Theater designers exploited the psychological power of place. Elements of classical European and modern Art Deco architecture evoked an aura of sophistication. Walls with panoramic landscapes surrounded audiences, transporting them to a time and place far distant from ordinary existence. The garment shops of New York City gave way to ancient Egypt; the wheat fields of Topeka, Kan., to a tropical isle.
Escaping the trappings of everyday life, moviegoers surrendered themselves to the cinematic storyteller. Sharing this experience fostered a sense of community, of safety and belonging among audience members.
Fast-forward 50 years. Multiplex theater chains dominate the market. Theaters are located in strip malls and shopping centers next to restaurant chains and department stores. They're meticulously planned to enhance acoustic, visual and physical comfort, but some might argue that they lack in imagination. There's nothing to encourage flights of fancy here.
Add to that the growing list of options for at-home (or mobile) viewing, like DVDs and Internet streaming. They're cheap enough to pick up several flicks at a time, sometimes just days after the film's theater release. What's more, the technology puts you, the viewer, in charge of the experience. You decide when, where and how to watch. You can stop the show at will and dismiss it altogether for one that looks more interesting.
It's no surprise if the idea of movies as a vacation from everyday life is lost on 21st-century audiences. Movies aren't so much an escape as a diversion. You don't check the real world at the theater door -- you bring it with you, along with your smart phone. It's no different from the supermarket. Those people sitting next to you -- or, preferably, a few seats away from you -- are most likely strangers, like the ones waiting with you in the checkout lane.
At the same time, the digital wizardry that makes films more visually impressive also makes it harder to enjoy them. For details, plus the story on how some industry entrepreneurs are reclaiming audiences, read on.