Fancy Movie Seats Suck
It has come to my attention that people enjoy this new trend of installing extremely comfortable seats in megaplexes. As if the American ass needed any more coddling!
I understand the appeal. The soft leather of the king-size luxury recliner welcomes the body like a friendly cloud. The seats come with a neat button that lets you recline all the way back. And when you first nestle in and adjust the controls, you feel like an astronaut preparing to lift off into cinematic outer space. All of that feels good.
But, as Goldilocks has reminded us for well over a century, there is such a thing as feeling too good. And in fact, I would argue that these seats are actively bad. If we don't cut this shit out now, in 10 years, "going to the movies" will just mean climbing back inside your own mother's womb and going to sleep for two hours.
Treating cinema seats as if they were first-class seats on an airplane means you have to reserve them ahead of time. So even though you have more control over the angle of your seat, you have less control over whom you're sitting next to. If a handsy uncle or a clan of mouthy teens reserves seats next to you, you can't just get up and move somewhere else. Why? Because it's impossible to tell whether the empty seats are really empty or if they're the reserved seats of the fashionably late. With great comfort comes great responsibility, and I'm not at all convinced the trade is worth it.
Though I can't back up this next point with any lived experience or actual data, it stands to reason that these giant seats must be hard as fuck to clean and also expensive/difficult to maintain. With regular cinema seats—seats that flip up when you're not sitting down on them—sweeping and vacuuming is a relative breeze for ushers. Messes are welcome in a cinema with old seats, if only because the popcorn lets you know where to wheel that little vacuum broom. But who knows what can get caught in these new seats—and for how long. Mark my words: The next incurable STI will come from a Sour Patch Kid that's been lodged in a fancy seat cushion for five years.
Speaking of STIs, the 180-degree-recline feature essentially transforms the row of cinema seats into a row of twin beds separated by armrests. This setting allows dates and non-dates to feel too intimate too quickly. I'm no prude, but I'm a little shy about literally lying down next to strangers in a dark room, especially when I'm watching some porny new release.
Finally, and most importantly, a film is a chorus of visual, sonic, and textual storytelling. Everything from the wardrobe to the soundtrack to the dialogue to the starlet's lingering, soundless side-eye tells a story, and you're not going to catch all that if you're half asleep on a leather twin bed.
Fancy Movie Seats Rule
“There is such a thing as feeling too good,” Rich Smith says about fancy movie theater seats. I beg to differ. I’m with Mae West, who said, “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful.”
I first experienced these new movie theater seats at the Regal Meridian downtown, during a showing of Call Me by Your Name. I can’t exactly say what entranced me more, that sad movie about straight(ish) boys doing it or the seat from which I watched Timothée Chalamet cry into that fireplace, but I had never felt so taken care of in a movie theater before.
In all of his moralizing about seats (Americans can moralize anything—it’s our foundational passion and pastime), Rich fails to acknowledge those of us who are larger than the average human, those of us who have scrunched our necks for the entirety of our lives for the sake of the person behind us saying to their date, “I can’t see anything—can you?” It may be that regular, stiff-backed, crushed-red-velvet seats accommodate Rich perfectly (he is but a collection of normal-length popsicle sticks wrapped in skin), but overlarge people are people too, and I feel “very seen,” as the kids say, by these seats.
And by “very seen,” I mean, of course, entirely unseen. I am not blocking anyone’s view. I am reclining as if floating in darkness, I am tiny for once, I am a child again, I am lost in the world on-screen. The armrests between the seats mean the person next to me is farther than ever, which means I have enough room for my limbs—I don’t have to put my arms around the people on each side of me just to feel comfortable. Plus, because of the built-in cup holders, I don’t have to worry about knocking over my Coke Zero, which I do every time I see something at the Egyptian.
It is telling that being horizontal in the dark triggers such a moral quandary for a heterosexual male in the prime of his life. For added context, Rich was raised partly as a Jehovah’s Witness, which is a belief system under which you’re not allowed to celebrate your own birthday. Lord knows what counts as “porny” in such a universe, but it makes sense that someone trained to foreswear even the pleasure of having a birthday might be made uncomfortable by the sight of Natalie Portman’s ankles, or Scarlett Johansson’s earlobes, or other such carnal deviances. Nothing says “I’m a prude” like the phrase “I’m no prude, but…”
In gay culture, which is adjacent to but not identical to straight culture, we know all too well what causes STIs, and armrests have nothing to do with it. Yes, Rich, there’s plenty of data on this. For the sake of edification, I’m printing out some peer-reviewed studies on STI transmission for you, along with some old photos of Mae West. Talk about a starlet! Dude, she’s going to blow your mind.