‘Phantom of the Megaplex’ at 20: A Reflection on the Movie-Going Experience

Anyone who knows me would know that one of my favorite movies is the Disney Channel film, Phantom of the Megaplex. In fact, this movie has had a great influence on my life, as it showed me that the world of film and the movie-going experience could be fun. Because its milestone 20th birthday was on November 10th, I decided to use my entry for my blogathon, A Blogathon to be Thankful For, to celebrate this special occasion. A lot has changed since 2000, especially the movie-going experience. With that said, this editorial will highlight how different a trip to the theater is now compared to its depiction in Phantom of the Megaplex. The actual birthday itself looked very different than expected, due to the months-long Coronavirus pandemic. For the sake of this editorial, I will be discussing today’s theater-going experience as if 2020 were a typical year. Also, all of the photos are screenshots I took, unless stated otherwise.

Phantom of the Megaplex poster created by the Walt Disney Company and Disney Channel. © Disney•Pixar. All rights reserved. Disney XD© Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Purchasing a Ticket

In Phantom of the Megaplex, Karen, the younger sister of the film’s protagonist, Pete, plans on arriving at the theater at 7:30 in order to catch a 7:50 showing of a movie called ‘University of Death’. When she and her younger brother, Brian, get to the theater, they are stuck waiting in a long line. This is the result of Movie Mason, a patron of the theater, spending more time persuading guests to see better films than taking their tickets. Fortunately, Karen isn’t late to her film. But, when she meets her friend outside the auditorium’s door, Karen and her friend briefly discuss the idea of their other friend saving seats for them. The example I just described shows how movie-goers in 2000 used to arrive much earlier than their movie’s run-time to not only purchase a ticket, but to also claim their seat of choice. In addition, movie-goers arrived early to the theater to avoid any unexpected hiccups like the one I mentioned. Twenty years later, it’s still encouraged to show up early to the theater so you’re not late to your film. However, buying tickets and choosing seats are not an issue like they were before. Thanks to the internet, movie-goers can purchase their tickets on their local theater’s website or from a third-party site like Fandango or Atom Tickets. Movie-goers are given an opportunity to reserve their seats as well. Had the story of Phantom of the Megaplex taken place now, all Karen and Brian would have to do is show an employee their pre-paid, printed out ticket and avoid a line like the one Movie Mason created.

The line on the left gives viewers an idea of how long Karen and Brian’s line was. They could have been walking up the stairs on the right with their pre-paid, printed out ticket if this movie was released in 2020.
When movie-goers purchase their tickets online, they will see an image like this screenshot when choosing their seats. Image found at https://giftofocpd.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/theatre-seat-selection/.

Auditorium Chairs

Several scenes in Phantom of the Megaplex show the auditoriums inside the theater. All of the chairs featured are covered in a red material with a folding seat. Theater-goers in 2000 would have this style of chair as their only option. But since then, more cinemas have adopted recliners. There are even theaters that have chosen other forms of seating, such as couches and lounge chairs. However, if you would like to sit in a theater chair from twenty years ago, there is one theater chain that has put these chairs to good use. Two Emagine theaters in Minnesota offer “retro seating”. According to the theater’s website, these are “retro auditoriums that don’t feature recliners, but have throwback seats with throwback prices”.

The Cotton Hills Megaplex is filled with red covered chairs with folding seats like the ones pictured above.
Red leather recliners from Marcus Theatres are just one example of how cinemas have evolved their seating options. Image found at https://journalstar.com/business/local/marcus-to-remodel-the-grand-add-recliners-to-all-auditoriums/article_ff46f554-0eeb-56ec-a153-2a8d79e00f71.html
While I wasn’t able to find an official photo of Emagine’s Retro Seating, I did find this picture from one of the theater’s auditoriums, which gives movie-goers an idea of the type of chairs found in this particular screening room. Image found at https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g43333-d8360379-i207947595-Monticello_15_Theatre-Monticello_Minnesota.html

Bars

Because Phantom of the Megaplex is a family friendly film, bars would not be found at the cinema. However, theaters have added bars to their facilities within the past two decades. One example is AMC Theaters’ MacGuffins Bar. AMC’s official website states “the term “macguffin,” coined by Alfred Hitchcock, refers to a plot device that propels a movie forward”. The website, Run Pee (a site that informs audience members of the best times to take bathroom breaks during a movie), shares that MacGuffins Bar sometimes correlates drinks with the movies shown at the theater. One example is “a dino-themed bevvie when Jurassic World 2 was showing”.

This advertisement from MacGuffins Bar & Lounge takes advantage of Wonder Woman‘s 2017 release with an exclusive drink inspired by the movie. Image found at https://www.scoopnest.com/user/AMCTheatres/873698822307708929-wonderful-flavor-order-our-wonderwoman-themed-macguffins-drink-39gauntlet39-this-weekend

Movie’s Poster at the Door

Throughout the Cotton Hills Megaplex, the theater where Phantom of the Megaplex takes place, a movie’s poster is located in front of the auditorium the movie will be playing. In a scene where the “Phantom” causes mischief, a poster for a movie titled ‘Glimpses of Genevieve’ is located right next to the theater’s twenty third auditorium. The film’s title is also electronically shown above the poster. Personally, I have never seen this particular set-up at any theater I’ve attended. Also, theaters today will either not have any indicator (besides the ticket itself) of what movie is playing in the auditorium or the film’s title will be electronically shown above the auditorium’s door. The poster itself will be located in another area of the theater, such as near the main entrance.

This image shows the poster for ‘Glimpses of Genevieve’ sitting right in front of Cotton Hills Megaplex’s twenty third auditorium.
My screenshot features an entrance to a cinema’s auditorium showing 2020’s Tenet. At this specific cinema, the film’s title is above the door.

Cinema Sitter

One of the characters in Phantom of the Megaplex is a “cinema sitter”, an elderly woman who walks around the premises and makes sure the theater’s patrons are on their best behavior. Her role is similar to that of a hall monitor, reprimanding guests who wander the halls of the Cotton Hills Megaplex. This is another concept that I have never seen or heard of at any theater I’ve attended. I’m also not aware of “cinema sitters” being an official component of movie theaters prior to the release of Phantom of the Megaplex. The only thing closest to a “cinema sitter” in real life is Harkins Theatres’ PlayCenter. This space, located in select Harkins Theatres, is dedicated to looking after children while their parents are seeing a movie. The PlayCenter itself would be compared to a typical day care center, a place where children can be occupied while their parents are away. According to the official Harkins Theatres website, “PlayCenter staff members are trained professionals who work exclusively in the PlayCenter. They are background checked and fingerprinted.”

Karen is trying to find Brian with the help of this cinema sitter. The cinema sitter takes her job so seriously, that her title is labeled on the back of her smock.
This photo of Harkins Theatres PlayCenter looks very similar to what people would expect a typical daycare center to look like. Image found at https://www.lblittles.com/cerritos-harkins-family-theater/

Payphones

A row of payphones can be occasionally seen throughout Phantom of the Megaplex. From Pete calling his mom to one of Pete’s co-workers, Lacy, putting a phone back in the payphone holder, these payphones are used to scare Julie, Pete’s mom, and George, Julie’s boyfriend, into going to the cinema to check on Julie’s children. While I’m not denying the existence of payphones in movie theaters, I personally don’t remember seeing payphones in the cinema. Since the film’s release, cellphones, particularly the smart phone variety, have become more common in society. This modern advancement has ultimately led payphones to become more obsolete.

The row of payphones behind Pete are a reminder of how communication devices have changed.
Can you spot the payphone in this theater lobby?

The Projection Booth

The projection booth in Phantom of the Megaplex is operated by Merle, the head projectionist at the Cotton Hills Megaplex. When Pete and Brian ask Merle to resolve one of the “Phantom’s” shenanigans, Merle inspects the projector equipment to show Pete and Brian what likely happened. He even pulls a piece of film strip, proving that the movie itself had not been tampered with. In 2000, movie theaters were not utilizing digital cinema like they are today. Instead of using a digitized film reel or hard drives and internet links, theaters used film reels with strips of film. The closest thing to “state of the art” film projection cinemas had in 2000 was IMAX. Today, theaters are developing their own versions of this projecting concept. One example is Cinemark XD, found at Cinemark Theatres. According to the official website, Cinemark XD uses a “state-of-the-art projector capable of 35 trillion colors”.

In this scene, Merle pulls at a piece of film strip to show how it is perfectly intact.
A typical projection booth at a digital cinema. Notice how the film strips are missing? Image found at https://library.creativecow.net/articles/lasson_russell/digital_cinema.php
Computer chips, known to theaters as cinema chips, are replacing film strips in many cinemas. Image found at https://library.creativecow.net/articles/lasson_russell/digital_cinema.php

Spoilers

In an effort to figure out the “Phantom’s” next scheme, Brian visits a movie spoiler website to discover the plot of an upcoming movie called “Midnight Mayhem”. The idea of spoilers has not changed in twenty years. However, the reveal of movie details has expanded beyond websites devoted to the concept. Spoilers can be found everywhere. Social media platforms have been avoided when big blockbusters are released. Warnings for spoilers can be featured toward the beginning of film reviews. Causal word of mouth may slip a major plot point into the conversation. With recent technological progress and the ability to connect with people from across the globe, it has actually become harder to prevent surprises in movies from being spoiled.

While today’s spoilers may be found on the internet, they’re not limited to exclusive websites, like the one pictured above, anymore.

Conclusion

Change is inevitable, especially when it comes to the movie-going experience. Through the lens of film, we are given an opportunity to glimpse the past, even if it is only for a few hours. Phantom of the Megaplex captures how the cinema operated in the beginning of the millennium. It serves as a time capsule for those who remember that specific place in time. The movie is also a reminder of how far cinematic technology and the cinema itself has come. As of November 2020, it is unclear to determine what the landscape of movie theaters will look like by the time Phantom of the Megaplex turns twenty-five. While technology in film has made tremendous strides, there is still a lot that can be done. But will there be a facility to showcase these discoveries? There is no straightforward answer that can be given right now. However, we can still celebrate a movie’s milestone birthday through home entertainment and the internet. Like Movie Mason once said, “tell my theater that even when I’m not here, its magic is never far from my heart”.

Created by me, Sally Silverscreen, on Adobe Spark.

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Links to topics I mentioned in this editorial:

Retro Seating: https://www.emagine-entertainment.com/theatres/emagine-rogers/, https://www.emagine-entertainment.com/theatres/emagine-lakeville/

MacGuffins Bar: https://runpee.com/macguffins-bars-at-amc-theaters/

Harkins Theatres’ PlayCenter: https://www.harkins.com/play-center

Cinemark XD: https://cinemark.com/technology/cinemark-xd/

Digital Cinema: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_cinema#:~:text=Whereas%20film%20reels%20have%20to%20be%20shipped%20to,drives%20or%20optical%20discs%20such%20as%20Blu-ray%20discs.

Why I’m Siding with Universal in the AMC vs. Universal Debate

Last week, AMC and Regal theaters made the bold decision to ban movies from Universal Studios. This came on the heels of an unexpected, yet successful, VOD (video on demand) run of Trolls: World Tour. Since this announcement, a debate over which side made the right choice has started on the internet. After some consideration, I thought I’d join this debate by expressing my perspectives through this editorial. As you read in the title, I have sided with Universal Studios. In my editorial, I will highlight three reasons why I think Universal is in the right when it comes to this situation. Before I begin, I would like to point out that this post is not meant to be mean-spirited and negative toward anyone. This article is created to simply express my opinion.

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On-line movie purchase image created by Makyzz at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/on-line-order-cinema-movie-tickets_1577652.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/technology”>Technology vector created by Makyzz – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

Universal Has More Mouths to Feed

It’s no secret that the Coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on the economy. Many industries have lost their finances as well as their employees. Because of the orders to “social-distance” and self-quarantine, businesses that attract large crowds have been forced to temporarily close their doors. Movie theaters are just one of them, with studios postponing some of their theatrical releases until it is safe for everyone to enjoy their films. Even though movie theaters have a legitimate place in communities around the world, they only offer one service: showing movies. The employees that work for any movie theater play an important role. But every job at that theater comes back to making the movie-going experience the best it can be. AMC Theatres offers a video on demand service, which means they have some more employees than a typical theater. However, Universal has different key components to their company. Besides the movie division, Universal also has a television department, with the ownership of NBC and other affiliated networks. Comcast is owned by Universal as well and they have four theme parks. Movie theaters have been financially impacted by the Coronavirus, but Universal Studios is also in the same boat.

Child Carousel
Carousel image created by Daviles at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background image created by Daviles – Freepik.com</a>. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/carrousel-with-sky-background_954546.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

Universal Had Always Planned on Releasing Films Theatrically

When the CEOs of Regal and AMC Theaters have been asked about their decision to ban Universal’s movies, they have made it seem like Universal intentionally tried to hurt the movie theaters. Mooky Greidinger, the CEO of Regal’s parent company, Cineworld, said “not only did Universal provide no commitment for the future window – but Universal was the only studio that tried to take advantage of the current crisis and provide a ‘day-and-date’ release of a movie that was not yet released”. Meanwhile, Adam Aron, AMC’s CEO, said “this radical change by Universal to the business model that currently exists between our two companies represents nothing but downside for us and is categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment”. Despite AMC and Regal’s animosity toward Universal, Universal claims they never intended to shut the theaters out. The studio said in a response to AMC that “we expect to release future films directly to theatres, as well as on PVOD when that distribution outlet makes sense”. Their recent actions seem to match these words. One of the first films that was rescheduled due to the Coronavirus was the latest James Bond installment, No Time to Die. It will get a theatrical release, but not until November 25th. Fast and Furious 9 was also postponed, receiving a theatrical date next April. While Universal has released some of their titles on VOD, most of them were smaller films. One of these films was the 2020 remake of Jane Austin’s Emma. Similar to Trolls: World Tour, this movie was released around the “eye of the storm”. To make up for financial losses, Universal adapted to the global situation the best they could and tried to keep their business afloat.

Cinema Background Illustration
Coming soon movie image created by Macrovector at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by macrovector – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

The Movie Theaters Have Weak Arguments

Before writing this editorial, I read several articles and watched several videos about this subject. I have come to the conclusion that the arguments presented by the movie theaters are very weak. In an article from the website, Pirates & Princesses, Kambrea reports that John Fithian, the President and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, stated “Universal heavily marketed the title as a theatrical release, in theaters and elsewhere, for weeks on end”. As I mentioned before in this editorial, Trolls: World Tour was released around the Coronavirus’ “eye of the storm”. Universal, or any other company, did not know how bad the Coronavirus was going to get. If this had never happened and things had gone according to plan, Universal would have continued to release Trolls: World Tour in theaters. Earlier in this editorial, I also mentioned that AMC Theatres has a video on demand service. If they offered Trolls: World Tour on this service, wouldn’t AMC and Universal benefit from that decision? Even though AMC and Regal have banned Universal’s projects, the studio is not the only one to put their upcoming movies on VOD. Kambrea, from Pirates & Princesses, reported how Disney’s Artemis Fowl, which had a May 29th theatrical release, will now receive a June 12th release date on Disney+. In theory, Disney did the exact same thing Universal did. However, AMC and Regal have not announced any plans to ban Disney’s films from being shown at their theaters. This makes the theaters look hypocritical.

Basic RGB
Group of unhappy image created by Rawpixel.com at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by rawpixel.com – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

The 21st century has never experienced a medical situation of this magnitude before. Because of this, all divisions of the economy were forced to respond the best they could. This includes Universal, who have multiple components to their company. I don’t believe they did anything wrong by releasing Trolls: World Tour on VOD. If anything, the movie theaters’ reaction to this choice has made them appear out-of-touch with not only the digital consumer landscape, but also with how this virus has affected the financial health of the economy. I understand that movie theaters need to make money to keep the lights on. But intentionally hurting another business is not going to make the Coronavirus go away any sooner. This kind of mindset is what makes companies regress, reminding me a lot of Blockbuster’s demise. Just because we are “social-distancing” doesn’t mean we have to push each other away.

 

Sally Silverscreen

 

Here are the sources for this editorial:

Is PVOD The Future of Hollywood Releases? North America Theatre Owners Hope Not

‘Artemis Fowl’ Releasing to Disney+ on June 12th

AMC, Regal Ban Universal Movies From Their Theaters After Studio Throws Rock at Theatrical Window

Universal Responds To AMC: Studio Believes In Theatrical, But Expects To Release Movies Directly To Theatres & PVOD When “Outlet Makes Sense”

https://www.amctheatres.com/about/on-demand

Universal Studios Theme Park Locations Worldwide

https://www.cnet.com/how-to/watch-trolls-world-tour-birds-of-prey-sonic-hedgehog-streaming-now/

Movies Delayed Because of Coronavirus

https://www.universalstudios.com/

https://18cinemalane.wordpress.com/2020/03/13/word-on-the-street-fast-and-furious-9-postponed-to-the-following-year/