Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Celluloid Mayhem at ‘Back to the Future Night’

AMC Westgate 20

This particular bit of mayhem took place a few years ago, when the AMC theater chain decided to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the release of Back to the Future with special digital screenings of the film at cinemas across the country; included on that list was the AMC Westgate 20, a multiplex located a short drive from where I live in Peoria, Arizona.

Back to the Future has been one of my all-time favorites since it first hit the screen in 1985, when I saw it three times during its long theatrical run that year; twice at my neighborhood six-screen multiplex, and once at the majestic Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara. For me, this is the type of movie where, if you were to drop it into any theater at any point in time, it would entertain every single person in attendance…the perfect movie-going experience, that I couldn’t wait to be a part of again.

Unfortunately, you have to actually see the movie before you can say you’ve experienced it, and I had exactly two chances to do so: some corporate doof had dictated that there was only going to be two screenings per theater, at noontime on a Saturday and 7:00 on a Monday night, and I had no idea what kind of crowd to expect from either showing. Would I find ticket line a mile long, resulting in a sold-out show, or a ghost town of a theater auditorium with only a few patrons attending? Throwing logic into the mix, I chose to attend the weekday show, which I theorized would be less populated than a weekend screening (of course, making a try for the Saturday show first, then saving the Monday show as my emergency backup, would’ve made a lot more sense). So, that Monday afternoon, I left work and made a beeline for the theater, where I arrived over two hours before showtime and discovered…there were only four seats remaining for the show!

But wait! The manager of the theater had decided to add another screening, a second 7:00 show, and I was told there were plenty of seats remaining for that presentation; seeing that a formidable line had already formed for the original show, I smartly bought a ticket to the second one, where I knew I’d have a good spot in the queue, and a much better chance at a prime seat. Basking in the glow of good fortune, I asked the prepubescent ticket girl if I could now have my free silver anniversary poster, too.

“We don’t have free posters,” was her too-self-assured reply.

I insisted that they did, and when she asked another teenage brain donor what the hell I was talking about, her response was just as misguided as her co-worker’s. I pointed to a large sign behind them, a cardboard stand-up that clearly stated that there were indeed free promotional posters available to every ticket purchaser, while supplies last. With a note of indignant sarcasm, I said, “I believe that sign right there proves that you do have a poster for me.”

After studying the sign for too long—I’m sure they were hoping it would suddenly disappear, or at least show that the offer had expired—one of the pair picked up a two-way radio and contacted an assistant manager, who confirmed that yes, there were free commemorative posters to be distributed, which were in a large cardboard box in his office. And so, while the two hurried off to retrieve the box, I stood at the counter and waited.

Soon enough, a three-foot-tall cardboard box was dragged out by the two girls, who stood it up on end and pulled open the top, revealing a plastic bag inside which obviously held the massive collection of rolled-up posters; by the looks of things, there were maybe anywhere between 250 and 500 sheets in the gigantic roll…and wedged in a box that could barely contain them. So when one girl struggled to pull the jammed-in bulk from the box, and then her co-worker gave it a try without success, I should’ve predicted what was coming next. But I didn’t, and stood in mute non-comprehension as the box was lifted up, turned over, and given a tremendous jolt.

Too late I yelled “NO!”, and though I’m sure everyone in that lobby and all twenty auditoriums jumped and spilled their popcorn, these two girls were deaf to my anguished shout, and allowed that tube-shaped bag to jettison from the box. And like a vehicle after a frontal-impact crash test, the brunt end of that roll of one-of-a-kind posters slammed hard onto the tiled floor, where it crumpled as easily as you’d expect it to. I let out a defeated sigh as the girls, quite proud of their resourcefulness, peeled away the bag and hefted the poster roll onto the counter. Sure enough, the end was hopelessly crushed, basically ruining the posters for anyone who might’ve, at one time, considered them to be either collectable or frame-worthy.

The girl flattened out the thick roll and slid the top-most poster towards me. “Here you go,” she said, happy to have obliged. Looking at the wrecked one-sheet, I shook my head and told her I didn’t want one that was smashed to hell. “I think they’re all like that,” she replied.

My response was soaked with exasperation: “Well yeah, they are now.”

Inside view of a time-jumping DeLorean

And so, without a poster and with two hours to kill, I walked outside and studied the five classic DeLoreans that had been parked on the front concourse, then I left the mall area and grabbed some dinner at a nearby fast food place, returning to the theater around six o’clock, where back inside I tried once more to secure an undamaged poster, only to be told that they’d now be given out after the movie. So what are you saying, you’re giving out the damaged ones first, to early-bird chumps like me?

Next to me, at the ticket counter, a father and his two young children were being told that the second showing had already been sold out! I couldn’t believe it! I informed him that just an hour ago, only a handful of tickets had been sold; he just shrugged, and when I told him the film was also playing at a few other AMC theaters in the Phoenix area, he said those had been sold out, too.

He headed for the lobby exit, and I proceeded to the little kiosk where the ticket taker waited to tear my ticket, and where I was directed to the opposite end of the complex, to Theater 12, and to a short line that had formed at the closed auditorium entrance; like them, I’d been told by the ticket guy that our movie wasn’t seating quite yet. I’d noticed that the other showing had already let its customers in, and I wondered where I’d be stuck sitting with a fourth-to-last ticket in my possession…the front row, looking straight up at a rectangular screen of giant, indecipherable images? I shuddered at the thought,  and took my place in the back of the other auditorium’s line, wondering when we’d be let in. A glance at my watch showed that it was exactly 6:15.

Over the next half hour a few more people arrived and took their places in our line, and by 6:50—ten minutes before showtime—it was just the fifteen of us waiting outside a 169-seat theater. A sellout? I don’t think so…that dimbulb employee who told the father and his two kids that no more seats were available must’ve looked up the status of the first showing, instead of the second. Dumb! Soon, I struck up a conversation with the young couple waiting behind me, whose friends had texted them to say they’d sold their Back to the Future tickets outside, amidst the DeLoreans, for $10 each—nearly double the box-office price—and had opted to see The Town instead.

Five minutes later—and that would now be five minutes to showtime—a pair of AMC employees lumbered past us through the lone entrance to Theater 12 and closed the twin doors behind them; I had no idea what they were doing in there, but minutes later they returned, and after propping the doors open, and without a word to any of us, they walked away. With an open theater now beckoning us, our modest group headed inside and found ourselves some seats, figuring it was safe to enter the theater five minutes before the show started. Right?

Not quite. After getting settled, it took just a few minutes for the same two employees to wander in and insist we all return to our places in line outside…they weren’t ready for us to be seated yet. One of the less-patient members of our collective questioned why, and was told that the crew still had to ‘synch up’ the digital projection. Whoa now…synch it up? How long does that take? And why would that process make it necessary for us to wait outside the auditorium?

For chrissake! The fifteen of us trooped back out, found our spots in line (there was now a stretch of rope stanchions that had covertly been set up while we were gone), and waited outside Theater 12 again. It was now 7:10, and I realized that if I’d purchased that fourth-to-last ticket, like I should have, I’d be watching a new digital print of Back to the Future right now. I also realized that, from my vantage point, I could see that someone was talking to the people at the head of the line; not an AMC employee, but a customer, and based on his gestures, he seemed to be explaining something important to them. And though I could only make out bits and pieces of the conversation, I was certain I’d heard him say, “It won’t be ready ‘til eight or eight-thirty.” Say what!

I turned to the couple behind me, who’d missed this exchange, and filled them in on what I knew. Moments later, the message that had been relayed to the front of the line by the passing stranger had now made its way back to us: our movie wouldn’t be showing until NINE! Two hours from now! Apparently, this alternate screening scenario was a spur-of-the-moment idea cooked up by the theater manager, who wasn’t aware that it literally took hours to download a digital print! And the maddening part of it was, at no time did an AMC employee bother to let our group know about the situation, or the delay. How long were they going to let us stand there?

What also filtered down to us was that theater management was currently refunding tickets to those who didn’t want to wait around for an event that, quite possibly, may never take place. The girl behind me said to her boyfriend, “Forget it.  Let’s go see The Town.” And with that, they bade me farewell and left.

I waited a few minutes, mulling over my options, and soon decided I had absolutely no desire to stand there for another two hours, and give AMC any more of my valuable time or hard-earned cash, for what I considered a monumental and completely unnecessary screw-up. I was already aggravated with them for their exorbitant concession prices and their bedroom-sized auditoriums (it was here, a few months earlier, that I’d seen Green Zone with a friend, in an auditorium so small the shadow of his head blocked a portion of the screen), and was not in the mood to have the memory of my three previous Back to the Future screenings tainted—or further tainted—by this one. I left the line and made my way to the Customer Service area.

I wish I had something memorably deranged about my refund attempt to end this little diatribe with, but unfortunately the transaction went quite smoothly, considering all that had occurred beforehand. I received an apology and my money back, and the manager even came over and apologized to me, and presented me with a free pass, which wasn’t necessary but was appreciated just the same. After sitting down outside the theater complex for a moment, under a cool nighttime sky, and enjoying the sight of the five DeLoreans and the neon glow from their flux capacitors, I headed for home, where I got settled and started to watch my rental disc of Melvin & Howard…a full hour before I maybe would’ve been seated to watch the delayed second screening of Back to the Future.

And I never did get my damn poster, either.

Back to the Future 25th Anniversary poster

2 comments on “Celluloid Mayhem at ‘Back to the Future Night’

  1. oneluckiegirl

    I’m sure you knew this, I however did not, and being one of many Back to the Future lovers, I wanted to mention it: yesterday, 1-4-2013 was the day that Marty McFly returned to the future.

  2. Todd Benefiel

    Cool! I was NOT aware of that, but I’m guessing that was a moment from Back to the Future II, which I’ve seen twice in my life (the last time being in the early ’90s), and I don’t recall many of the finer details of that particular film. The original Back to the Future yes, and one moment I remember was attending a screening of the movie at my local cinema in 1985, and the entire audience suddenly noticing OCT 26 1985 on the DeLorean’s dashboard, the same date we were all sitting in the theater that night.

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