Sunday Nibble #75: A little bit free

The last time I went to a movie theater was in February, 2020. I don’t remember the exact date. Just that the movie was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at the Pacific Theaters in Sherman Oaks, right across from the Best Buy.

I think it was a 4:30 show on a weekday — I want to say Thursday, and pretty late in the run of the film, so there were all of three of us in the theatre, which was fine with me. I sat in the front row of the balcony — perfect seats — and enjoyed the show.

Not long after on March 9, 2020, my improv company, ComedySportz L.A., shut down temporarily, although they still really haven’t started back up. Less than two weeks after that, Los Angeles and the rest of California shut down and everything changed, but I don’t think I have to recap that history here.

I year and a half later, I’m fully vaccinated and have been since late May, and things had just opened up at the beginning of July when they came to a screeching halt again two weeks later thanks to the Delta variant.

I knew more than a few fully vaccinated people who nonetheless got infected and, while their symptoms were mild, they were persistent, plus they still had to quarantine.

Of course, I went to a good friend’s engagement party in the gap between opening and re-closing. I was there for five hours with a huge group of strangers, and we were all unmasked. It’s been long enough that I would know it if I’d been infected by now, but it was one of those “Oh shit” moments when we shut down six days after that event.

So I’m back to being cautious. I skipped returning for the newly resumed summer camp that was the impetus for this entire site in the first place way back in 2017. Despite the requirements for everyone to show proof of vaccination and be tested, and with masks optional if people wanted to wear them, I just couldn’t bring myself to stay for an entire weekend with a bunch of strangers in shared cabins and communal meals.

Likewise, I really don’t think I’ll be able to go to my friend’s wedding in October, mainly because it’s so far away, and current thinking puts long distance travel and weddings very high up on the list of high-risk activities, even if you are vaccinated. The wedding is far away.

But there was a new movie opening that I really wanted to see, it was only rolling out on big screens, and then I found this newly opened and very close to home theater and also found that for the first showing, at 6 p.m. on a Thursday night, barely any seats were sold.

It was a Real 3D and 4DX theater, so I picked my seat in a row that I thought was behind the aisle separating the last two rows from the rest of the seating. This was fine, because the seats that had sold were all across the middle of that section.

The only flaw in my plan: Since the seating chart didn’t indicate where the screen was and I’m used to reading plans with the back wall at the top, it turned out that I was actually in the back row of the orchestra, basically, or a lot closer than I had planned for.

No big deal, though. Not really.

The film was Free Guy, a 20th Century Studios release, aka a Disney film. What drew me in was the premise — especially since it was not part of yet another franchise — plus Ryan Reynolds, who is always amusing and appealing. Of course the trailer helped. If you’d like to take a look, here it is:

Having seen the film, it’s really amusing to see how things have been cut up and moved around, so don’t take this as the literal plot. That’s refreshing for a Disney trailer. For once, they don’t just tell you the entire story. I’d seen this trailer and the previous ones from last year before COVID delayed the film’s release, and I was still surprised all the way through.

Full disclosure: I am receiving absolutely nothing for hyping this film so much. I just really, really enjoyed it. Maybe it was all those years of playing Sim City, where the player is sort of the ultimate NPC. (That’s non-playable character for you non-gamer types — all of the background players who are just there, doing their pre-programmed thing.)

As for the overall experience… thanks to the time of day, COVID, and the newness of the entire venue, the place was practically deserted when I arrived, which was fine with me. The parking lot was mostly empty, so I parked right in front of the elevator.

These were marked with signs indicating that maximum occupancy was one group from the same household or one person. Again, just fine with me.

The theater lobby was also deserted and so quiet that I actually wound up in the theater and in what I thought was my seat before I realized that I didn’t have my 3D glasses and hadn’t actually checked in. I went back and found the ticket checker, who was very blasé about it. She scanned my ticket in from my phone and give me my glasses — hermetically sealed in plastic.

Gotta love buying your ticket on your phone, picking your seat, and that’s it. My biggest movie theater anxiety was always getting the tickets and then printing them out and not forgetting them when that was a thing, or making it to the box office in time and standing in line, hoping to get good seats before the show started way back when that was a thing.

I also definitely would never, ever see a film opening weekend. That was just too much of a crapshoot. Not this time, though. I was actually at the first showing on the first day.

So taking my time and doing it all on my phone is just amazing for so many reasons.

This was not my first experience with Real 3D. I definitely saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi that way, and I think I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story in that format as well. I can’t remember what other films, if any, I saw between the two, although I am sensing a theme here. I think I saw the most recent James Bond Film — Spectre — in a theatre, and was that almost six years ago already? Wow.

Or did I watch Spectre online? Yeah, really hard to remember.

But, anyway… I was very impressed by all of my experiences with Real 3D. Bright images, no ghosting, the glasses work with or without eyeglasses under them, and the film doesn’t look muddy or blurred without them.

This was my first time at the rodeo with 4DX, which is an apt description, but I actually really like it. The very short version is that the technology turns each block of four seats into its own mini motion-control ride synced up to behave in coordination with the movie, and it adds an entirely new level to everything.

The seats can simulate just about any motion, and they are also capable of blasting warm air past your ears, blowing mist in your face, or tickling your legs. Apparently, it can also simulate rain, storms, rushing winds and other such phenomena — although we didn’t get anything quite that extreme in Free Guy.

All in all, it made for a nice, safe break from being basically locked in for most of eighteen months other than grocery shopping, and it was nice. If you’re vaccinated, don’t live in a state with a crazy governor, and have a movie theater near you that practices social distancing and requires masks, give it a shot.

I know the whole experience made me feel a whole lot better. Give it a try.

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