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on movies in Texas

March 14th, 2008

There’s a lot right with movies these days (stadium seating, Seth Rogen), but there’s also a lot that’s wrong: ticket and food prices, texting, talking, screaming babies and what seems to be the same three movies on every screen in the multiplex.

Let’s face it—Prince William County isn’t exactly a film Mecca.

The best option for movies locally is probably popping a Blu-ray. Maybe someone who lives in one of those gorgeous Haymarket mansions has a super-sized high definition screen, reclining chairs and surround sound. Even for those of us who don’t have these luxuries, Netflix sounds better and better every day. (To say nothing, of course, of film piracy).

(Another option is driving toward D.C. for some of the theaters that specialize in foreign or independent movie theater. But, who wants to drive all that way for what might be a lousy movie?)

What’s the solution for people who love and are interested in movies but aren’t interested enough to take a chance across state lines? What can get us back into local theaters?

I think I may have the answer. Movies need to be fun. Not so much the content of the film, but the experience itself—it needs to be well worth the money, time and for some, babysitting costs. I found out how to do that from of all places, way across state lines in Austin, Texas.

I went to Austin last weekend for a comic book show, to see some friends do some sightseeing. Every one of my friends told me I had to check out a place called the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. I told them I didn’t come to Texas to see a movie. They said that the Drafthouse, which I had heard of, is quintessential Austin. I couldn’t get tickets to a sold out screening of “Back to the Future” (which happens to be my all time favorite movie), but I sucked it up and went to a matinee of “Juno,” just for the experience. (The Drafthouse isn’t one screen. There are a few locations around town, showing multiple films—old, new and special interest—a day).

If I had paid my $6.50 and left before the movie started, I’d have still left with a big goofy grin on my face.

Here’s how it works:

For about 45 minutes before the movie starts, they show trailers and old clips of things related to the movie. For “Juno,” there were clips of an old Jason Bateman… something, dated sex ed films and a great public service announcement about how parents shouldn’t stop their kids from masturbating.

While all of that is playing, you can look at menus and write down orders for drinks or food. After the girls behind me explained how it all worked and recommended a local beer, I commented that this would be the first time I’ve ever drank, legally, in a movie theater.

Then, before the proper trailers, they showed trailers for upcoming Drafthouse attractions. I wish I could have stayed in town for a few more days to go to the Ferris Bueller quote-along or a Michel Gondry music video retrospective. 

(My friend Drew said she went with her friends to a boy band sing-along, which, with the alcohol flowing, sounds like it could have been a great time).

Then, the regular trailers and then the movie. No commercials or lame 20 minute “attraction reel” before the movie.

But… you don’t have to go all the way to Texas just to drink and watch a movie. There’s the Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse, just up I95 (and then some). I’ve never been, but I can venture a guess that it’s not to D.C. what the Alamo Drafthouse is to Austin. 

As far as I can tell from their (terrible) Web site, the Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse only has one screen and show mostly second-run movies. Still, they do all kinds of cool screenings there as well. I tried to go see “Office Space” only to find out it had sold out.

At least there’s some kind of market for this kind of stuff in the region. But with all the development going on around town, wouldn’t it be great to have something like this a bit closer to home?

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