Alone Again, Naturally

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I want every movie to be good. I really do. I always walk into the theater with high hopes, even when all signs point to the likelihood of my hopes being dashed. For while I do get a certain pleasure from seeing bad movies, the same as I enjoy watching those “blooper” shows on TV — it’s fun to watch things go wrong, isn’t it? — I’d much rather see something good. And if it’s not too much to ask, I’d like for it not to star any WB network cast members, OK?

But after so much hope-dashing, you start to become wary of hoping TOO strongly that a movie is going to be good when it’s obvious that it isn’t. There’s hoping, and then there’s being stupid. For example, the other night I went to see “Alone in the Dark,” a sci-fi/horror film that opened last weekend to universally negative reviews. And I do mean universally: Of the 91 reviews tallied at RottenTomatoes.com, only one is positive (and that “positive” review only gave it a C+). Even the dumb people who go around saying, “If the critics all hate it, it’s probably really good!!!!!!!!!” can’t ignore statistics like those.

Furthermore, the film was directed by Uwe Boll, a German filmmaker whose previous work, the zombie movie “House of the Dead,” was fantastically stupid, even for a zombie movie. I believe in the principle of repentance, and I believe that people can change. However, I did not believe that Uwe Boll had seen the light with regard to his moviemaking skills, and so I had little reason to hope that “Alone in the Dark” would be any better.

I had missed the press screening of this movie because I was at the Sundance Film Festival, so it became my lot to watch it after it opened, in the theater, with normal people. I chose a middle-of-the-road stadium-seating multiplex in Salt Lake City, one of those theaters that, despite starting to show its age, still tries to maintain a hip atmosphere by including, next to the standard popcorn and Raisinets, a counter with coffeeshop products like danishes and bagels. I bought a brownie there, and as the teen gave me my change, he said, “Enjoy your movie.” I said OK, but I didn’t really think I was going to. In fact, I was a little offended that he thought he could boss me around like that.

At first it looked like I would be watching “Alone in the Dark” alone in the dark, as I was the only person in the theater. It was 10 p.m., and it was a Wednesday night. You might drag yourself to the movies under those circumstances to see if an Oscar-nominated film is worthy of its buzz, or to catch a movie you’d heard positive things about from friends. But why see “Alone in the Dark” at all, let alone when doing so will keep you out until almost midnight in the middle of the week? Why do that to yourself?

So I sat alone and watched the pre-show entertainment that many theaters have nowadays. It used to just be slides of easy trivia questions and name-the-movie quote games that were projected on the screen. But now there’s sound and motion — little movies up there, trying to amuse us in the idle minutes before the movie starts.

One of the segments was about “Racing Stripes,” which was described as an “upcoming” film despite having been released three weeks ago. Dustin Hoffman, who is the voice of a Shetland pony in the movie, was being interviewed about his character and about the film in general. He said, “There’s a subtle message in this piece,” and I was startled. Did he just refer to “Racing Stripes” as a “piece”? Like it’s art or something? As in: “Last weekend we listened to the symphony perform a piece by Mozart, then we went to the museum to see some exquisite Picasso pieces, then we went to the movies to watch the piece about the talking zebra”? I thought “Racing Stripes” was a “piece,” too, but probably not in the same sense that Hoffman meant it.

Just before “Alone in the Dark” was scheduled to begin, some other audience members began to arrive, first in the form of a married couple who I found fascinating. They were in their 50s, making them approximately 30 years older than the film’s target demographic. The husband, a rotund, white-haired man, sat with an empty seat between him and his wife, apparently because he felt he was too fat to comfortably occupy a seat directly next to another person. There was no discussion first; this was just how they always do things, evidently. They chortled at the excerpts from “Racing Stripes” that were shown before and after Dustin Hoffman’s dissertation, especially at the part where two horseflies sing, “Who let the zebras out? Who? Who? Who? Who?”

Speaking of who, who are these 50-year-old unhip married people who go to the movies at 10 p.m. to watch a horror/sci-fi flick that everyone knows is going to stink? What could possibly attract such people to this particular film? Weren’t they worried they’d miss Leno? Didn’t they have to get up early the next morning so he could get to work at the factory and so she could get to her part-time cashier job at the dollar store?

A few more people arrived in time for the movie, too, most of them young people, although there was also a dumpy-looking couple in their early 30s, he with a mullet, she with bangs arranged in the shape of a claw, who smelled so powerfully of cigarettes that I could smell them even though they sat 10 feet away from me. The movie began, it sucked mightily, and it ended. As we all shuffled out of the theater, no one gave any indication of having enjoyed it. I wondered if I was the only who was not surprised at this. Were these people more hopeful than I had been? Are they still in that innocent, child-like phase of movie-going where you believe that if a movie makes it to the cineplex, it must have been assembled with some degree of competence? How I wish I could return to those carefree days. But I have become jaded. I have seen “Freddy Got Fingered” AND “White Chicks.” It is a wonder that I have any happiness left in my life at all. Were it not for movie-theater brownies, I might not.

Please don't misunderstand. "Alone in the Dark" is certainly a terrible movie, but it was only the circumstances -- the general malaise over January films, the dreary situation at the theater itself, etc. -- that caused me to write about it. It wasn't the worst movie of the year or anything.

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