Weirdness of Going to the Movies in the Time of Pandemic

I live in a town of about 100.000 people, which hasn’t seen a new case during the whole summer (actually the total number of cases is -1, but I’m not sure why one was removed, but probably just some sort of duplication), so I’ve felt pretty safe about going to movies.

Thusfar during this summer I’ve gone to movies three times. First was 8th of July to see Empire Strikes Back, then the next day to see Weathering With You and just today to see The Witch in the Window. We have two theaters in town: one that is part of the largest chain in Finland (which is actually owned by AMC, so a part of a huge worldwide chain) and one art house, which is operated by the a local society of movie fans.

These two theaters have made somewhat different decisions in their social distancing. The former decided to only allow sitting in pairs with two empty seats between the these pairs of seats. The latter went much further, taking away the seats from every other row and two thirds of the seats on the remaining rows.

Of course, the major studios haven’t been willing to release their movies during this time and they have been pushed back, so the theaters show what they can. They still have movies from The Before Time, such as Parasite and The Gentlemen available, but they have also dug deep.

To my surprise, the Empire Strikes Back was actually the original version – or at least pre-Lucas additions version. That was great. Where else can you even see those today? Unless you are willing to shell a lot of money for used versions.

Weathering With You is from last year, but that’s pretty normal for anime. They always take some time to reach Finland, because they don’t have the same power behind them as Hollywood releases. (BTW, an excellent movie.)

The Witch in the Window is a weird case. It’s a horror movie from 2018. It feels more like a Netflix movie than something you would go see in a theater. It’s fine. You know, good production values with professional actors and a pretty good script around a fairly good premise. Nothing special, but competent (although I guess many people will be disappointed by the ending, which I sort of liked). Nothing you would usually see in theaters in Finland, but apparently the pandemic gave this movie a life it probably otherwise wouldn’t have had. The theater was relatively packed. Movies are not as big a pasttime in Finland as it is in the US for example and movies like this just don’t get audiences. Locally, even high-profile horror films might get like a dozen people in the first showing. Actually, before today, the movie had had theatrical runs in only a handful of countries: Indonesia, Ukraine, South Korea, Cambodia and Taiwan. Not the most lucrative markets (well, except for South Korea).

It remains to be seen how all this affects the business as a whole. The big studios can’t survive forever without putting out movies. At the same time, some productions have already began in Europe and other countries. Maybe this means that next year the slate will look very different. Of course, the studios still have several big releases to go. They won’t just leave hundreds of millions on the table. On the other hand, if they are not willing to release them until the situation has stablized in most of the world, they might be in for a long wait, which will leave room for other movies, which often take time rolling out anyhow.

As with everything else, we are living in interestng times with movies as well. Some moviemakers are adopting. There’s a horror movie, which was completely filmed through Zoom or something like that, and apparently Pedro Almodóvar is making a film with Tilda Swinton, which only has one character in it. How deep can you go with these kinds of ideas? Probably not very, but as a big fan of movies, I’m happy someone has found a way to do something right now.

On the other hand, Akira is coming to theaters near me next week, so I’m not totally against this current situation either.

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