The Weekly Moviegoer - Pump Up the Volume!
by Christopher Campbell
June 17, 2009
People are so noisy and disrespectful at the movies. Often I find myself trying to enjoy a good comedy, and the audience goes and ruins it by laughing out loud, causing me to miss whatever dialogue follows a joke or bit of slapstick. Who knows if I've missed an important line of exposition or a successive joke because of these rude outbursts? It's no wonder that I tend to wait for comedies to hit DVD, when I can watch them in the privacy of my own home and hear every bit of it over my light guffawing. Obviously I'm kidding… mostly. Although I've never been a loud laugher, I appreciate the sound of a crowd in amusement.
Of course, there's nothing better than seeing a funny movie with a large, enthusiastic audience (so long as that audience gets the humor). But there have actually been plenty of times when I've been annoyed by laughter during a screening. There are those occasions when immature people chuckle at male nudity not intended as comedy (say, in The Piano), for instance, and there are times when bored people snicker at some cheesy line of dialogue in an otherwise serious film (say, when Colin Farrell says he's a “fiend for mojitos” in Miami Vice). In the latter case the blame goes to the movie more than the audience, especially when I agree that the dialogue is terrible, but that doesn't change the fact that the experience is bothersome.
I never thought I would be annoyed with laughter during a movie I found humorous, but such a time came this past weekend when I went to see The Hangover. First, let me say that I didn't love the movie and thought some of the gags, particularly the constant head injuries and the male nudity (intended to be comedy this time), were a bit desperate. But I wasn't irritated with anyone for his or her sense of humor, and in other circumstances I would have completely tolerated the laughter in response to those gags. Unfortunately, this was a rare situation in which the movie theater's sound system was so quiet that I could barely hear the movie even when my fellow viewers weren't making noise.
At first I thought I was going crazy (or deaf), but my companion was having the same trouble with the audio, especially whenever Zach Galifianakis would speak in his typically whispered manner. As much as I hate to get up during the movie to alert a manager (I don't like to miss anything), I would have in this case, but the show was sold-out crowded and I was stuck six persons deep in a tight row. For a while I kept hoping someone else with a better position would get up and have the matter resolved. Nope. Nobody else seemed to care -- enough, anyway. As the movie went on I just got madder and madder when something funny would happen, because then the audience would explode in laughter and I would miss the joke. Plus, there was just something unsettling in the way that the audience was so much louder than the film. It was enough to drive me crazy (though not deaf, I guess).
The odd thing, aside from the rest of the audience being okay with the volume, is there's no good explanation for how this could have happened. Back when I worked in cinemas as a manager-projectionist, it was normal for me to get complaints about a movie being too loud. Usually this would happen during the ads, which are made to be especially loud and attention-grabbing, though occasionally old folks would also ask for the sound to be turned down during a weekday matinee when the auditorium was near empty (sound seems louder in an empty room than a full one). Sometimes we'd forget to turn the volume back up for the more-populous evening shows, but normally we'd be alerted right away if the sound was unacceptably low. Or, if we did our jobs correctly, while starting the film we would see on the sound system tower that the dial was not at its default position.
After having this experience over the weekend, I came to the conclusion that cinemas should never touch that volume dial. Instead, they should stock a small amount of free, disposable earplugs for those few people who do complain about the movie being too loud. Just as many concertgoers expect piercing volumes and may bring earplugs accordingly, moviegoers should expect a certain level of loudness at the cinema, whether it's a boisterous blockbuster or a talky drama. It's the same feeling I have about air conditioning: leave it at an extremely cool temperature and put it to the chill-prone patron to bring a sweater if need be (whereas if the temperature is kept higher, we warmer types don't have the option of getting naked).
Or maybe I'm just getting to that age where I need to start asking at the box office for those assisted hearing devices. But I know from experience, on the other end of the ticket counter, that most of those things don't work properly (or have fresh batteries). So I'm sticking to my other suggestion - don't touch that dial!