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Polluted Entertainment

When TV invades the movie-going experience

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I suspected we were in trouble the minute NBC's peacock logo sprang up on the movie screen. I've been seeing the bird all my life, dating back to when it still unfurled its tail, and its image says one thing to my brain: "TV." That's why I was confused -- why was it blazing down on me in all its Technicolor glory at the movies? Maybe NBC had gotten into making feature films, but a sinking feeling in my gut told me otherwise. The junk-fest that followed confirmed my fears -- network television has invaded what had been one of the few public refuges left from its ceaseless yakety-yak, trapping us where we can't even channel-surf!

Of course I already knew that movies had started showing commercials for such crap as the three big C's: Coke, candy, and cars. That's an outrageous enough insult, even though the spots are better than TV ads and sometimes funny, but what the peacock unloaded signals a whole new level of cinematic defilement.

Concocted by three networks, it's a monstrous television intrusion on movieland called "The Twenty: Entertainment Ignited!" Apparently we now have to suffer through it after the local still ads have flashed on, but before they even get to the car and Coke commercials, let alone the movie previews, let alone the feature movie! By the time that comes on you may be asking yourself what the hell it was you came to see in the first place.

Who knows what the "twenty" refers to, unless it's how many minutes this mishmash wastes. It seems to blither on for at least that long, beginning slyly with an elaborate spot promoting NFL football on NBC that stars a fluffed Jon Bon Jovi resembling Britney without breasts but quickly devolving into a string of standard-issue pitches for various network shows and video games no better than what we have to endure while watching plain old TV.

In a lame attempt to camouflage the fact that we're being besieged by television in the formerly exempt zone of a movie theater, a "behind-the-scenes" look at a feature movie that isn't even running anymore is mixed in. There's also a music video starring Bon Jovi's fellow sell-outs Hootie and The Blowfish singing a song from a made-for-TV remake of a real movie.

"The Twenty" actually wraps up with a little re-cap of the muck we've been pelted with, just in case the audience is too numbed by ad-assault to recall what they've just been ordered to watch on TV -- and then it's on to multiple Coke brain-implants for anyone in danger of forgetting the brand recognized by all of humankind and at least a few apes. The last image on the screen before we finally make it to the frickin' previews is that of the Coke logo spinning hypnotically like a magic weapon.

When you think about it, the movie experience started out being modeled on live theater. Even I can remember when movie palaces, as they were accurately called, sported such details as fancy mock balconies protruding on either side of screens covered by dark velvet curtains. Eventually the balconies were scrapped and the curtains weren't velvet anymore, and then were gone altogether too, as movie theaters morphed into the featureless cubes they are today.

Although the cinematic scene no longer refers back to vaudeville, at least until recently it was still set apart from TV by the fact that it didn't include ads for anything except other movies and concession fodder. This was one of the things you took for granted as being guaranteed by the high price of admission, and if you got to the theater early you simply sat there listening to music, one vestige left over from when an organ recital preceded the feature film.

The first encroachment was those damned local still ads flashing at us, followed by the big-budget soda skits, and now by the excruciating Twenty. I guess since so many people have abandoned non-cable TV the desperate networks have decided their best bet is to hunt us down and corner us where we congregate in record numbers, which is the movie theater. Their invasion of our film sanctum means that the only ad-free place left for movie viewing is, ironically, cable TV.

What really sucks is that we continue to pay ever-bigger bucks for an experience that's becoming debased instead of better. What can we do to rise up, people? One option would be to throw popcorn at the peacock, but that would create more work for the poor dust-pan brigade that already has to deal with swine treating the theater floor like a big trash can.

Maybe if we hang out in the halls and refuse to take our seats until the previews start the theater managers will be so annoyed they'll stopping running the advertising crap.

Remember, it's not TV. It's the Moving Picture Show, you're paying a pretty penny for it, and it's supposed to entertain instead of hustle you.

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