Movie #8 of the year, The Crazies
The first time I encountered the “pick your seat” option was not long after I moved to Los Angeles and went with my new roommate to experience seeing a movie at something called the Arclight. It was the “future of movie theaters,” he explained to me. Aside from the higher ticket price* this also distinctly meant the ability to select which seat in the theater you wanted to sit in.
Since then the Arclight or its west side not-quite-equivalent The Landmark have been my destination when it came to opening night of the biggest blockbusters and / or limited releases. No more guessing how full the auditorium would be, no more camping out hours before the movie started, no more asking people to scoot over so you could have two seats next to each other. Much to my delight, this past December the AMC theater in the Century City Mall also “upgraded” by converting their often sold out theaters to this more patron friendly option.
The problem with this reserved arrangement occurs when you attend a screening that is not sold out. Not even close to being sold out.
Which brings me to The Crazies. Upon entering the sparsely filled auditorium with my brother we found that the seat next to our two was taken. Correction: the seat next to my seat was taken. Now in a first come first served theater people naturally tend to leave a seat or two in between themselves and the person next to them because when the theater isn’t full there’s no reason to huddle up next to each other as though you were stranded in cabin on a mountaintop during a blizzard. With reserved seating you could find yourself stuck in far worse conditions.
You wouldn’t choose to sit next to him would you?
Last Saturday I found myself sitting next to some creepy old guy all by himself. To make matters worse he was leaning more towards my direction ensuring I catch a whiff of his old man funk even though the seat to his right was empty (and remained empty for the entire movie.) He acted like because he got there first that I was the one being the inconvenience. But here’s the thing: when I purchased tickets the night before there weren’t any seats sold, which means he knowingly chose to sit next to someone (the seat next to mine) in a sparsely attended theater — and makes him all the more creepier for doing so. That and the fact that he heckled someone for clapping when the title card appeared on screen.
This is the problem with reserved seating: to avoid having an AARP weirdo sitting uncomfortably close to you in a half empty theater you have to wait until closer to the show time to buy your tickets so you can select seats not directly next to an X-ed out seat. Yet this delay causes the better seats to be taken, leaving you with less preferable options, effectively voiding the benefits of reserved seating in the first place. Essentially this boils down to the one major flaw of reserved seating: you can’t tell who will be seated next to you.
With unreserved seating it is a gamble of where you’re going to sit relative to the screen, but you can at least get the best possible seat relative to who else is in the audience. Choosing who you’ll be inches away from for ninety plus minutes easily trumps the location of where you’re sitting in a theater. You can choose the seat next to a young dating couple over the seat in front of a row of inattentive teenagers. You can choose to sit in the far back corner instead of a smushed next to a sweaty movie buff who empties a large bag of popcorn before the trailers even start. Or you can choose to have a buffer seat between you and some old smelly guy in lieu of having a centered seat.
*Remember I had just moved to LA from the Midwest where I could see two movies for the same price.