Movies in the Time of Covid-19

I went to the movies today for the first time since we saw Bloodshot back in March. Part of me was giddy – I love going to the movies, and I certainly don’t get out of the house to do much that excites me often these days.
As with everything else, this isn’t a return to normal, so much as normal with a heaping side of “you’re still in a pandemic”.

When you buy tickets, you’ll notice that some seats are automatically greyed out. Your choices are also greatly reduced – though the app does a poor job of showing it, the rows are actually staggered. The theater is not THIS small, it’s that these are the available rows. A, C, E, etc. They also enforce a two seat gap on each side of the party.

A couple of notes on this:
I love this, though it wouldn’t make me feel safe if there were still 20 people in the theater. I’ll go into my movie thought process in a bit.
This policy, unfortunately, requires a lot of trust in the audience. I don’t know if on a busier day they’d go through and enforce the seating, but it places a lot of trust in a general public who can’t come to a consensus on mask wearing, and that’s … sketchy.

I like that the theater scans your ticket at the door, and then reminds you to wear your mask the entire time you’re in the theater, save for eating and drinking. (Again, trust.) All of the doors are open, so if you don’t want to touch a thing, you don’t have to. Contactless concessions are also available, however, I didn’t indulge.

To add an extra touch of surreal to the experience, a lot of the same movie posters are up, with their release dates plastered over with “coming soon!” stickers. Due to the glowing lightbox, you can still make out the original dates underneath. May. June. July. It’s a slightly unsettling reminder that things were supposed to happen this year that didn’t. Time went on and these movies didn’t.

Now, I want to add a big disclaimer to my movie going experience:
I have no idea whether going to the movies is a good idea right now, and to be honest, it probably isn’t. My aim is to tell you how I did it, and what might be the safest way to go about it if you choose to go.

The first thing you’re probably wondering is what I went to see. It’s not like there’s a lot of good options right now. There are a few new movies out right now, but they’re ones we’d never heard of, and frankly, don’t sound very good. It’s not surprising, given that all of the movies with any promise have been pushing back their release dates. However, the theaters have been playing “classics”, which means nothing other than “not first run”. They’re playing both Jaws and Bloodshot, running the gamut from actual classic (though I beg to differ that I found Jaws BOR-ING) to maybe they just didn’t bother returning the film in March. (Though Bloodshot is actually fun and worth watching if you like comic book/action movies!)
I chose to see The Force Awakens, because, if you’re going to place your life on the line for a movie, it should be a Star Wars movie, in my humble opinion.

I’ve been stalking the Regal app for days, looking at attendance, trying to make a best guess on how busy it was going to be. It certainly didn’t look like Force Awakens was going to be a big draw, and as of this morning, only one seat had been booked. So, 45 minutes before the movie, I went ahead and grabbed my ticket. The only other seat that was booked was in the back, so I went for the front. Getting a great seat is way less of a priority than getting away from other people. (To be honest, that’s generally how I choose my seats in a non-pandemic, just even more so.)

I went to the first showing of the day (though there were only two), because I figured it lessened the chance of contaminated particles in the air. I’d recommend doing the same – go to the first possible showing, or go during a really offbeat time. Monday at 2pm was not a busy time pre-pandemic, so I liked my odds. I don’t think I’ll be doing any evening or weekend showings for a long time, unless it looks like the theater will be very empty. Lucky me, for whatever reason, the other person who booked a ticket didn’t come, so I had the entire theater to myself.

Earlier, I mentioned that I decided against concessions. While I generally like to get a drink at least to support the theater, I won’t be eating or drinking while at the theater, because I want my mask to stay put.

Also taken into account is that the new covid numbers in our area have decreased a bit the last week to ten days. Granted, it’s not great. Our numbers shot up exponentially during July, but it seems to have leveled off a bit. We had fewer than 5 new cases today. Had it been the 40 new cases that we had a few weeks ago, I’m not sure I’d have gone.

So, we have:
– Unpopular movie
– Unpopular time/day
– Pick a seat away from people as best you can
– Refrain from concessions
– Take your local statistics into account

I’ll only briefly mention the obvious: Wear your mask. Yes, I know. But the great thing is, you’re sitting the whole time. Masks are far less frustrating when you are sitting still. I had to fuss with it a little bit because of glasses fogging, but once I got it in a good spot, I did my best not to wiggle around, and the majority of the time, it was fine. If you’re determined to think wearing a mask is a drag the whole time, you will.

Last but not least, I went into the theater knowing that if I didn’t feel safe, I would leave. Would it be a bummer? Yes! But that was a deal I made with myself. If I ended up sitting too close to other people who refused to wear their masks and otherwise made me uncomfortable, I’d go. Now, it helps that the “classics” movies are only $5. But, also, I have the Regal Unlimited Pass, and it paid for itself ages ago. (Plus, they didn’t charge for the pass while they were closed, and I think they’re not starting again until September.) I highly recommend you be prepared to walk if you need to. If it’s too much of a “but we spent the money!” sink to you, just rent a movie at home.

So while it’s probably not a great idea to hit up a movie right now, it’s possible to do it in a relatively safe way – you just need to be extra thoughtful, careful, and flexible. If you’ve found that you love seeing movies at home, more power to you! Continue to do so, so that the theater will be empty and I can continue to go.

Stay safe and take care of yourselves.

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