Charles and I went to see Bulworth at the Ziegfield Theater at 54th and Sixth in Manhattan, one of those great single-screen theaters with about a million seats. When we got to the line to buy tickets, we were surprised to see a seating chart dividing the theater into “zones.” We were politely asked where we wanted to sit and issued tickets with seat numbers just as if it were a football game or a Broadway show.

Well, it’s not a football game or a $75 ticket to a Broadway show; it’s a movie.

But, OK — it was required that we play along, so we did. We asked for an aisle up close, maybe the fourth, fifth or sixth row — center or side, didn’t matter. In we went and found our aisle seats in the 19th row. We waited for the movie to start, then moved up to two of the many empty aisle seats up front. No great harm done. The theater was only about half full, so we got to sit where we wanted.

But look how dumb this is. Today, the way it works is that 600 incredible computers are applied to the task of finding each person the seat that best suits his or her preferences. These computers are called brains. No ushers or attendants required, no arguments, no delays, and if you want to be sure to get the kind of seat you like, just come a little early.

Under this new, “improved” system:

  • The wait to buy tickets will be longer, because each transaction becomes far more complex.
  • To avoid holding everybody up, you’ll settle for a seat far less ideal than the one your eyes and brain could grab if you were actually looking at it, and those around it.
  • Ushers will be required to help people find their seats, raising labor costs and ticket prices.
  • There will be fights. People will sit where they’re not supposed to — some, because they’re pigs, most because “that’s an 8? It looks like a 3!” Or they’ll wait, as we did, until the lights go down, and then switch to an empty seat … but then the rightful owners, who came a little late, will arrive, which leads to a little whispering and “excuse me, sorry, excuse me, sorry” as people stand up and go in and out — and then, when you return to the seat you were assigned, it will turn out someone else took your seat when the lights went down — “excuse me, sorry, excuse me, sorry” — and why? What is accomplished by all this extra effort and regimentation? Nothing! It’s a movie! Leave us alone!

I’m all for the new small “luxury” theaters that are beginning to open up. Big plush seats, waiter service for drinks, “free” popcorn, a high ticket price. I have no problem servicing the affluent market, or the market that wants to splurge for a special occasion. Viva first class for them as wants to pay for it. But assigned seating at the regular movies? It is a ridiculous idea.

(And mark my words: It won’t last. Very few people will call the theater companies to praise it, and most won’t care too much either way, but many (like me) will hate it enough to drive the theater owners nuts.)



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