Charge more for prime cinema seats? Hmm, define ‘prime’

Charge more for prime cinema seats? Hmm, define ‘prime’

Earlier this week, AMC Theatres, the largest cinema chain in the US, announced it would be rolling out a new ticket pricing system based on seating location in its theatres. Much like at the theatre or opera, ticket prices would alter depending on where moviegoers choose to sit: go for the front row or wings and get a discount, go for “preferred sightline” seats in the middle and pay a premium.

This announcement annoyed cinema fans.

“Everything is a racket. The best seat is now on my couch,” one online commenter exclaimed, amplifying the wider sentiment that this would just push people further away from theatres and towards streaming. “Airplane-ification of the cinema,” quipped another guy.

The best seat in the house is different for everybody.

Even Frodo Baggins jumped into the pile-on. “The movie theatre is and always has been a sacred democratic space for all,” tweeted actor Elijah Wood, “and this new initiative by AMC Theatres would essentially penalise people for lower income and reward for higher income.”

As much as I’d love to raise a fist and yell “Fight the power, Frodo Baggins!”, I can’t. Because personally, I’m all for this initiative. Because my “prime seat” is your undesirable seat, and I’ll happily take that crappy seat discount.

For years now, I’ve been a Row B devotee. Row B, around Seat 3 or 4, to be exact, way over there on the far right (the only far right I’ll ever endorse). Every movie is better from Row B, Seat 4. You’ve never experienced cinema until you’ve felt it swallow you whole, at a delightfully acute angle.

I don’t understand why ticket sellers at the box office assume everyone wants to sit in, like, Row L. They’ll ask you, “Where do you want to sit?” and you’ll casually say, “Oh, I don’t know, somewhere near the front” because it sounds insane to go “Row B, Seat 4!“, and they’ll hand you a ticket for Row L. Row L? Why don’t I just go home and watch Magic Mike’s Last Dance on my phone because that’s the size the cinema screen looks from Row L. I don’t go to the cinema just to watch a movie, I want to escape right into the screen. I want the screen to envelop me like a cuddle from Channing Tatum, or something.

Some people (my friends, my colleagues, my partner, my kids) think Row B is too close, but after a few common complaints – “I can’t see the whole screen at once!” or “My neck will hurt!” – they’re generally accepting, especially if I’ve timed our entrance intricately so we arrive right as the lights go down and all the other seats are either taken or barely visible. “Let’s just go down here where it’s empty!” I’ll whisper and frantically lead everyone to the extreme front of the auditorium. To be honest, those ever-empty seats should’ve always been cheaper.

The wings preference involves more convincing, and is perhaps the main reason why I watch about 85 per cent of movies alone. But that’s also partly the point. Have you ever sat on the wings? There’s hardly anyone there. Even at the busiest screenings you’re at least 5-7 seats away from the closest human, which is ideal cinema distancing. It also offers a more unique viewing perspective. Like most things in life, the middle is boring, unless you’re doing Jimmy Eat World karaoke. Live on the edge, people. The edge of the furthest aisle in the cinema.

And so, a premium price on the most coveted seats in the cinema is fine with me. Cinemas are struggling to survive this post-pandemic environment, and I thoroughly endorse any extra fees that don’t affect me.

You know what cinemas should introduce next? A penalty fee on tall people. I mean, no one’s in front of me over in Row B, but as someone on the Jeremy Allen White (short icon) side of 5-foot-8, this would please me. Gonna impede someone’s view? Pay up, giant. Although we should waive the penalty if they promise to slump in their seat.

Another penalty fee? For anyone who nudges past me in the middle of the movie to take a toilet break. Again, Seat 4 is an interruption-free zone, but you can never be too safe. I have the bladder of a cactus, I’m not going to get up. I could watch an Avatar marathon and barely shuffle in my seat. But think you might need the toilet before the film’s third act? Grab an aisle seat or pay the pee fee.

[Cut to 2036, feverishly gesticulating to my teenage children]: “… and that’s how I saved cinema. You’re welcome, cinema!”

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