Monday, June 30, 2008

Regal Cinema's Disregard for Patrons and Films

I love to go to movies. I really enjoy going to a new blockbuster film on opening night. Usually, my wife and I (and our kids, when appropriate) go to the Regal Cinemas Village Park Stadium 17 in Westfield (or Carmel, depending on who you ask), Indiana. The theater is close to our house, has decent stadium-style seating, and ample parking. Unfortunately, the management at the theater has very little, if any, regard for the patrons that pay to see films. This past weekend, that disregard sank to a new low, one that was, I believe, a fraud perpetrated upon unsuspecting patrons and their kids.

On Friday afternoon, we took our kids (8½-year-old twins) to see WALL-E (which they had been looking forward to). We got our candy, popcorn, and drinks and settled into a crowded theater to watch the film. The movie started and everything seemed fine and normal. Then, about 20 minutes or so into the movie, there was what appeared to be an odd-edit and the story jumped forward in the narrative chronology. Having not seen the movie before, I just accepted this as part of the storytelling technique and kept watching, although numerous elements of the story made little sense. But then, about 20 minutes later, the film jumped back to the point in the story where the previous jump had occurred. For a moment -- a brief moment -- I thought that the story was being told through a flashback. Then I realized that this was a Pixar (Disney) film aimed at kids; I wasn't seeing Memento or Rashemon or Pulp Fiction. No, what I was watching was a film that was being shown out of order.

My wife drew the proverbial short straw and left the theater to find a manager to complain. She spoke to a member of the Regal management team who explained that they were aware of the problem. The manager "offered" to let us move to a different theater for a showing of the film that started 30 minutes after the show that we'd purchased tickets for "if we were unhappy" with how they were showing the movie. My wife told the manager that the other patrons should be told that there was a problem with the movie and the manager replied that they were "discussing" what to do about the problem.

So, we moved theaters, missed the first 15 minutes or so (that we'd already seen), and then watched about 30 minutes all over again (in the right order this time). The kids seemed to find the whole thing to be kind of an adventure.

When we left the theater after the movie (which I enjoyed very much, both as a movie aimed at kids and as a more serious science fiction film), we sought out a manager to continue the discussion of the issue. During that discussion, the manager indicated that she had suspicions that the film was out of order the night before yet did nothing. Moreover, she did not make any kind of announcement to those who had not complained and sat through the out-of-order version of the movie. I asked her, rhetorically, how many kids might have been confused by the out-of-order storytelling and she just shrugged and said that she didn't think that people would have a difficult time piecing the story together for themselves. We told her that we thought that the theater's management had, in essence, committed a fraud upon those purchasing a ticket for a film that the management knew or should have known was damaged. Again, she just shrugged, and, in essence, told us "tough shit; I don't really care".

And, lest you think that this was an isolated example of a problem, rest assured that it was not. Several months ago, we saw Cloverfield in the same theater. As those who saw Cloverfield can attest, it relies upon an interesting storytelling and video style. When the film began, a thin green line ran from the top to the bottom of the screen about ¼ of the way across the screen. The green line was very, very distracting, but we thought that it was just part of the video style that the director had intended. It wasn't until about 15 minutes into the film when the line was still present that we realized that it was actually a scratch on the film rather than a part of the actual storytelling. We were about to complain when the line finally went away.

After the movie ended, we asked to speak to a manager. (Interestingly, the manager that we spoke to then was the same manager that we spoke to Friday night.) She acknowledged the scratch on the film and, more importantly, indicated that it had been there since the night before. In other words, she acknowledged that they sold tickets for several shows to see a film that they knew was damaged and that they didn't tell anyone or warn people that the film was damaged. Had I been told, prior to buying my ticket, that the film was damaged, I would have waited and seen a different showing, come another night, or gone to another theater.

Consider, for a moment, if this was a DVD that you rented from Blockbuster. How would you feel if Blockbuster knew that the DVD was scratched, but rented it to you anyway? You get home, pop some popcorn, turn off the lights, snuggle in with your loved one for a night of movie watching, and then the movie skips. When you call Blockbuster to complain, they say, "Oh, yeah. That copy is damaged. Bring it back and we'll let you watch a different copy." Would you be satisfied? Or, imagine if, rather than a movie, the product being sold was a car and the dealer knew that the tires were defective? If the product were a hamburger and the restaurant knew that it was contaminated with e-coli? If the product were a _____ [insert your favorite product here] and the store that sold it to you knew that it was defective. Wouldn't that be a fraud? To knowingly sell a product or service that one knows is defective (especially when non-defective versions are available) is nothing less than the perpetration of fraud upon unsuspecting consumers. It is wrong. It might be criminal.

And, just consider one other thing for a moment. Movies are art. The people at Pixar spent years making WALL-E. Each scene was carefully thought out and composed to look just right. The story was written, tweaked, examined, and revised, so that it worked just right. When the director releases his film, he (or she) expects the artistic integrity of the final work to be maintained. Sure, the director and studio may agrue over final cuts and so forth, but once the film leaves the studio, the director knows that filmgoers are going to see the movie that the director and studio have created. A theater has no right to change the director's artistic vision or modify the artistic integrity of the film. Showing a film that the theater knows is damaged (as in Cloverfield) or showing a film out of order violates the artistic integrity of the film and is probably a breach of the director's moral rights and the studio's copyright in the film. And, while I understand that accidents happen, that doesn't explain either of these situations where the management of the theater knew that the films were damaged before selling tickets.

Why am I so pissed off? After all, it was just a movie and we got to see the whole thing in the right order. It pisses me off because I know that there was a theater full of people who didn't realize that there was a problem. More importantly, there was a theater full of kids who may not have understood what should, to them, have been a very entertaining story (with a message, no less). I'm pissed because the management of Regal Cinemas ruined the experience of seeing the movie for many people. I'm pissed because the management of Regal Cinemas violated the artistic integrity of the film (and, as someone who really enjoys movies, this is something that I take seriously). And, most of all, I'm pissed because the management of Regal Cinemas clearly doesn't give a fuck!

And when I say this, I'm not just engaging in some kind of angry hyperbole. Back in 2005 I got fed up with a number of problems at the theater (from stupidly long lines to filthy restrooms to theaters so cold that patrons would actually bring blankets into the theater [in summer, no less!] to managers who were aware of the problems but did nothing about them). So, I wrote a letter to the CEO of Regal Cinemas (and sent a copy to the local theater's management). After a month or so, I received no response whatsoever. So, I followed up with a phone call to a customer support number at Regal's corporate offices. They promised to look into the matter and get back to me. Of course, I never heard from them again. Thus, from these experiences, all I can conclude is that, as I asserted above, the management of Regal Cinemas simply doesn't care about their patrons. They don't care if they sell tickets to a damaged movie and they don't care about the quality of the experience of theater patrons. And this disregard appears to be a corporate philosophy. It appears to be a calculated decision that, if the theater is convenient, people will show up no matter how bad the experience may be, so there is no reason to make an effort to make the experience better. And when, from time to time, someone complains, just give them a free ticket and send them on their way. No harm, no foul. I wonder what Regal stockholders would have to say about that corporate philosophy?

On Saturday night, my wife and I went to see Wanted. We went to the new AMC theater that opened. It is a bit farther from the Regal theater and parking wasn't as easy. But the theater was clean, there weren't any lines for popcorn, the employees were friendly, and the movie wasn't damaged. I suspect that we'll be spending more of our entertainment dollars with AMC and fewer with Regal.


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At Monday, June 30, 2008 5:22:00 PM , Anonymous Jonathan said...

I have had a number of strange moviegoing experiences (including repeated tape breakage during Uncle Buck), though none as confusing as that. Then again, we don't have Regal here in STL!

Stef and I caught WALL-E last night and thought it was fantastic. Hopefully you enjoyed it even if you had to see some of it a second time.

At Monday, June 30, 2008 9:53:00 PM , Blogger Charles said...

Actually, Jonathan, the theater up at the Mills shopping center is a Regal. That said, I've never been to it and, given what Mike has described, I'm doubtful that I will.

I really like AMC, especially their Moviewatcher points program. The only problems I have with them (and they're not really problems, they're just benefits of the other major chain her in STL, Wehrenberg) is that they don't have Nacho and White Cheddar salt for their popcorn, and they don't have anything that compares to the Wehrenberg Galaxy's Mega Screen.

Yeah, I'm shallow (at least about the salt). So sue me.

I'm hoping to see WANTED and HANCOCK this week.

At Monday, June 30, 2008 10:24:00 PM , Anonymous Deborah Wallack said...

The fact that the manager did not care that they were committing a fraud both against the patrons and Pixar is what especially amazed me. To have the manager admit, no -practically chuckle, over the fact that her theater was purposely deceiving its patrons is truly telling of how Regal chooses its mangerial staff. One wonders how Pixar awould react about this deception from Regal in regard to the film. Perhaps they should be informed....

By the way, good writing in your blog. It must be your wife's influence....

At Saturday, January 17, 2009 11:48:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a current employee at a Regal Cinema in Virginia, I can tell you that the way Regal runs things is very screwed up. The theater managers themselves have to assemble the prints (usually 5,6,7,8 reels of film) of every movie that comes in to the theater. There is no excuse for a mis-assembled print and if anyone can be blamed for such a stupid mistake, it IS the manager and no one else. Regal's bottom line is to make money off the concession sales since they make almost nothing off the actual films they are showing. Their concern, at what we are told as employees, is to push as much popcorn, soda, and candy as possible on the customer. The films, their condition, and projection quality, are of very little concern at all. Plus, you have Regal's overly tight budget (to insure high profit margins), which reduces the staff considerably, and many of the responsibilities fall on the managers' shoulders. The floor staff sells tickets, concessions, and cleans up - nothing else. Even though I have experience working with film in a production environment, I am not able to use that knowledge or skill with film assembly, projection, etc. as a member of the floor staff at Regal. I would have to become a manager in order to do that!

Unfortunately, the pursuit of profit has done away with the job of "projectionist" in the past 10-20 years . Theater companies such as Regal didn't want to pay the rates required for a projectionist, because projectionists were/are unionized. But the drawback to that is, you have no specialist who deals with just the films in a theater anymore and making sure things are right. It's kids/young adults/morons who have no clue what they are doing or any idea of what the technical aspects of film are - plus they have to do 9 million other things on top of that. That's the best way get a movie put together in the wrong order, or scratched, or out of focus....

Much of what you talk about is one of the main reasons I quit going to movies a long time ago. I prefer to watch films in the comfort of my own home on my HDTV. That way, I know I am seeing a film in the manner it was meant to be seen, without any distractions or problems. Hopefully, once digital projection becomes more commonplace in every movie theater, the issues you discuss will no longer be issues because there will not be something physical that can be damaged, assembled incorrectly, etc. Until then, if you choose to go to Regal, you can expect a lot of mixed results in regards to quality.

At Saturday, May 02, 2009 8:54:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If u think thats all bad come to the ormond beach fl. regal.The management staff looks like they just walked out of a nightclub somewhere, i thought mgmt. would have a dress code.On top of that u can smell alcohol on most mgmt. and staff everytime u go there,and the flirtation between mgmt. and staff partying during previews,and in the parking lot is horrid,not to mention the bars they all attend with underage staff in tow or sending someone out on break to do beer runs for everyone.How do i know all this? i am the fourth divorce attributed to regal cinemas of ormond beach florida. My soon to be ex works there as a part-time mgr. and drinks enough to be legally intoxicated before she goes to work there every shift she is scheduled. Then without fail after the place closes the partying begins with all the kids and mgmt. resulting in early morning disaster after another, probably why the films are always not properly attended to the next day.I know all my friends stopped attending there a couple of years ago,and alot of our kids friends wont go anymore because of the things that go on. And you are right, calling regal corporate offices is useless. However if you want to see a side show go to ormond beach 12 in florida.


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