When I was a kid, our family went to the movies a lot. But I don’t think my parents did this to foster a love of the cinema, or else they wouldn’t have taken us t a Disney double feature of “Song of the South” (one of the few films to achieve the elusive combination of being both racist and boring) and “Condorman” (you can Google it).
No, they did it because movies were something you could do with a family of five and still have enough money left to buy groceries and electricity. This was back when you could go to a family film with less than $50 in your pocket — today you could only do that if you left the kids in the car, which is frowned upon. Still, until recently you could still get away with not spending a fortune if you took certain steps, such as going to an early matinee, and sneaking in the candy in plastic baggies taped to your torso.
But keeping costs down is about to get harder, with the news that admission for 3-D movies has just gone up 20 percent. And I’m sure this will soon apply to all movies, since apparently if you don’t make your movie in 3-D these days, James Cameron will come to your house and kick you in the knees.
In fact, the Wall Street Journal just cited a theater I’ve been to often — the AMC in Danvers, Mass. — as the poster child for the price increases, with 3-D tickets shooting up to $17.50. (That would be for one.) So if we do the math, we’re talking a good $70 ($70!) just for admission, and an easy $30-plus for popcorn, nachos and a Coke that strains the sides of the cup holder like Kevin Smith in a coach seat.
But surely the modern 3-D movie is worth the $100-plus you’ll drop during those two hours at the cinema? Well, let’s see what Roger Ebert had to say about it on Twitter: “3-D,” wrote Ebert, “is a distracting, annoying, anti-realistic, juvenile abomination to use as an excuse for higher prices.” Hmm … Maybe he’s just saying that because he got cheated out of seeing the fish pâté pop off the table in “My Dinner with Andre.”
It’s tempting to dismiss Ebert as some Luddite traditionalist, but that’s hard to argue about a guy who’s on Twitter 24 hours a day. Besides, I know that if I had paid $17.50 to see “G-Force,” which is basically a 90-minute demonstration (in three dimensions) of how gerbils have bowel problems just like the rest of us, I would have returned my 3-D glasses stained with my own tears, had I not hidden them in my coat so I could wear them to the beach this summer.
It wouldn’t be as depressing if movies weren’t just one of many formerly economical pastimes soon to be out of reach of people with incomes still in the five figures. Like bowling, where they now charge you by the hour so they can factor in the 10 minutes it takes you to get the knots out of your shoelaces, or video arcades, where you have to spend $20 just to bribe the carnies not to kidnap you.
Still, not every theater has gone over to the dark side — I just took my son to Cinema 95 in Salisbury, Mass., which appears to be owned by actual humans, and two tickets for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” came to just $13. It was in glorious 2-D, which means none of the boogers flew out of the screen at me. I’d have been willing to pay extra for that.
But if eventually all movies are 3-D and charge so much for the privilege that we only get to go once or twice a year, I guess it will be time to find something else to do, like stand in Best Buy and watch whatever’s showing on the display models. Or maybe just joining Netflix for $8.99 and watching whatever they send us at home.
At least there we can keep the gerbils at a safe distance.
This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”