Today’s Flick Picks is about a movie I didn’t see.
But I tried.
When I review a movie before or even the day it opens, it’s because I, as a registered movie critic, already saw it at an advanced screening. Usually these screenings take place between two to four days before the movie opens. Phones and any other recording devices are prohibited. Security guards with night-vision goggles are present (I’m not joking).
Critics and regular Joes alike attend these screenings, though you can usually tell the difference between the two because, besides the critics sitting in a reserved section, regular people are often loud and eat popcorn, while critics just silently judge. The exceptions to this rule are few. And for every movie besides installments into the Marvel universe, critics bolt as soon as credits roll.
That is how screenings usually go.
Last night’s screening of “Thor: The Dark World” started promisingly enough — right on time to a packed house. The beginning looked a little familiar, though…actually, really familiar. Like, exactly how “Thor” started. The crowd started to murmur. This had to be a flashback, right?
Wrong. Word came from theater workers that they had accidentally played the wrong movie. Also, they couldn’t find the right movie, but they were looking for it really, really hard.
The house lights went up and, in almost a synchronized motion across the entire crowd, cell phones lit back up. After waiting for about 15 minutes, I began to digitally chronicle the experience.
“At the screening. They lost Thor 2 and started playing the first one by accident.”
After another 10 minutes or so, we got another update, furtively passed on by one viewer who had run to the restroom and overheard theater workers talking about it as he came back.
“Update: They have reportedly found Thor 2 but now have to restart the computer. The natives are getting restless, to say the least.”
Another person’s bathroom run gleaned more information a few minutes later. The news wasn’t good.
“Update: Their computer is broken or the cables don’t work or something. Repairmen are on their way. By the time they get here, I fear, anarchy will have taken hold.”
People were getting very restless. Some yelled to continue playing the first Thor. Others took a more proactive approach at seeing a story play onscreen.
“Update: The natives are using primitive tools to make shadow puppets to pass the time. I wonder if I can review Godzilla vs. Giant Dog. I also wonder if I can copyright that movie before SyFy releases it.”
Pretty soon, even making one person’s hand fight another person’s hand in front of a flashlight wasn’t enough for the antsy crowd.
“Update: The natives have sophisticated their methods enough to use paper to make crude airplanes or sharks, I can’t tell which. I think a separate, more savage group may have eaten a child in the third row.”
As it turned out, no children were actually harmed, but there was a fight over someone’s bucket of popcorn, which was quickly becoming a rare commodity. Meanwhile, the shadow puppet people were trying to recreate what they had come to see.
“Update: The natives have constructed what appears to be a rough effigy of Thor. They are making it destroy the sharkplanes. Popcorn levels are growing dangerously low.”
After more than an hour, a theater representative announced that the problem was that the encryption key, needed to unencrypt the digital copy of the movie, was not working, and that they had called for someone to look at it, but they didn’t know how long that would take.
“Update: Their unencryption key is faulty. The authorities have called for help, but have no estimate of its repair. A child behind me is weeping.”
The kid really was crying, because his dad decided the movie would get over way too late and was going to go home, and he was sad because he really wanted to see Thor.
After an hour and a half, there were fewer than two dozen people left in the theater. When I figured out how late I would get home versus what I still had to do that night and what time I was supposed to be to work in the morning, I decided it was best I leave, too. I guess they eventually got it figured out, but I don’t know when.
“Update: I have escaped that dark, joyless place. Though I left empty-handed, and have nothing wherewith to write a review, I take comfort in knowing I have survived to write another day…Pray my editor is as understanding.”
As it turned out, my editor was understanding. And even though I drove an hour each way to sit and do nothing for an hour and a half, it could have been worse. Sure, I kind of wanted to punch one particularly rude lady in the row in front of me (not a critic). But overall, I felt that, as a group, the audience kind of bonded, the way that people stuck in an elevator or who survive a shipwreck might.
I’ve been to other screenings where something malfunctioned. At “Hitchcock,” the movie had to be restarted twice because the sound and video didn’t sync. At “Jack the Giant Slayer,” the entire audience was relocated across the hall because the 3-D projector wouldn’t work. Someone having the wrong digital key is a new one on me, though.
The studio representative kept a pretty good face, but you could tell he was mad and embarrassed, even though his ruined screening wasn’t his fault. He sent the critics an email this morning, subject “Last night’s debacle,” apologizing for the incident.
“I’m still working on getting to the bottom of what exactly happened,” he wrote. “From what I can piece together so far, I think the blame falls equally on the theatre and Deluxe [the film distributor]. The theatre for not verifying the correct digital key in advance and Deluxe for shipping out the incorrect key. But I’ll take my share of the blame as well. That theatre is dead to me.”
But it could have been worse. Watching the shift in crowd mentality throughout the ordeal was fascinating. And the odds are overwhelmingly in favor that the mishap was a one-time fiasco. So, my apologies, but I’ll just have to catch “Thor: The Dark World” next time.