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Summertime means Drive-In time, so load up the cooler and the lawn chairs.

Let's go out to the snack bar, and have ourselves a treat!
by Y2Mckay

Sparsely dotting the landscape of gleaming, neon-edged cinemadromes, a few creaky outdoor screens linger like ancient monoliths. For every score of gigaplexes that feature stadium seating and THX sound, a lone drive-in with a sagging marquee and peeling paint remains. And if you’re lucky, there's one in your town that is still open for business.

Let’s face it, the drive-in tops the list of endangered cinematic species, and the only thing that keeps it from going the way of 3-D movies presented in smell-o-rama is good old nostalgia. An entire generation is growing up thinking that a drive-in is something you drop your dry-cleaning off at. If you’re not old enough to remember playing on the swing sets under the screen as a kid, or making out with your high-school girlfriend in the back seat of a ’79 Chevelle during the second feature, you are missing out. Thankfully there are still enough of us around who do remember, and it’s our sacred responsibility to expose these ignorant whippersnappers to a unique movie-going experience. (In case you’re wondering, “how old is this cranky fart, anyway?” I’m only 34).

In some ways, the drive-in will never measure up to the indoor movie experience. The seating in a stadium venue will usually be more comfortable than a lawn chair or a car seat. Of course, if you want to throw your Lay-Z-boy into the bed of your truck and take it with, nobody’s going to stop you. The bulky, post-mounted speakers may have been replaced by FM stereo broadcast, but the sound will never measure up to THX or DTS quality – no matter how much “BOOM-BOOM” the system in your ride has. And although the average drive-in screen is larger than that of an indoor theater, the picture quality will always be inferior due to the longer projection distance and ambient light factor. This is obviously not the ideal venue for the special effects-oozing mega-blockbusters, which you will want to savor frame by frame.

However, for your standard (or sub-standard) comedy/action/sci-fi-horror fare, the drive-in is a summertime cinema oasis. There are some charms that the state-of-the-art indoor theater will never be able to capture.

7 EXAMPLES OF DRIVE-IN SUPERIORITY

1) The drive in is cheaper: Not only is it a couple of bucks less than an indoor venue, but you get TWO MOVIES for the price of one! And they always repeat the main feature, so if you really liked it you can watch it twice. (Bonus Tip – The Buddy System: If you get one of your friends to take their own car to a multi-screener drive-in, you can each park in a separate theater. And if you work the times out right, you can see not 2, but 3 movies for the price of one. The management may frown upon this, but hey, it’s as traditional as sneaking your buddies in the trunk.)

2) The movies start later. If you live in a boring town like mine, most indoor theaters don’t have any screenings past 9 or 10 p.m. At the drive-in you can show up at almost midnight and still catch both movies during the height of summer.

3) You’re OUTSIDE. This is incentive enough for me, since where I live I’m freezing my butt off every winter. I like nothing better than watching a movie out on the lawn chairs or with the sunroof open, the trees to either side of the screen swaying in the cool evening breeze, the moon and stars overhead.

4) You can smoke, talk to your friends, chat on a cell phone, or bring a crying baby along – without pissing off your fellow patrons. And if someone in the next car is still a bit too loud, you can always just turn your sound up a little.

5) You can bring your own food! Nobody has ever said “you can’t bring that in here” to me at the Drive-In. They practically expect it. In fact, some places don’t mind if you bring the Hibachi along and fire up some burgers and dogs. However, in the spirit of supporting the theater, I suggest you stop by the snack shack and drop at least few bucks on some popcorn, drinks, or candy.

6) If the movie sucks, you are not stuck with the choices of either suffering through it or walking out and trying to get your money back. There are plenty of ways to have fun at a drive-in besides watching the movie. You can listen to tunes, talk to your friends, make out with your date, even turn on the dome light and read a book if it’s that awful. Doing a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” commentary on horrible movies is an always-amusing drive-in pastime. One time, during a really crappy Adam Sandler film, my friends and I took a camcorder and ran around the theater, filming our own Blair Witch parody. It turned out to be a lot funnier than the movie was.

7) Your parking problems are over – Have you ever tried to get a decent parking space at a megaplex on a Friday or Saturday night? You spend 15 minutes driving around in circles waiting for someone to leave, claiming your spot like a stalking tiger (or a crouching one, if you prefer), and then walk 3 blocks in to the theater. At the drive-in, you can avoid this hassle. Once you park, you’re set for the night.

If those reasons aren’t enough to entice you out to the drive-in, then I don’t know what will.

THE DRIVE-IN SURVIVAL KIT

When you think about it, going to the drive-in is like going on a camping trip for 6 hours. You may not need any of the items listed below, but it’s best to be prepared.

1) A flashlight – you never know when this might come in handy. I dropped my wallet on the way back from the snack bar one night, and would have never found it without my Mag-Lite.
2) Fresh D-cells – not only for the flashlight, but the boom box (see #3).
3) Boom box – on a really nice night, you may want to kick it outside (see #4).
4) Lawn chairs – or any kind of portable seating device will do. Inflatable couches or mattresses can be fun. I find that poolside loungers work the best.
5) Pillows, blankets, and/or light jackets – You can never be too comfy, and even in the summer it may cool off a bit.
6) Mosquito repellant – I’ve never really needed it, but it’s not a bad idea.
7) Bottled water – you can get it at the snack bar, too, but I like to have one handy.
8) If you have kids – make sure there are some toys or whatever along to keep the kiddies amused if they don’t like the movie. Most drive-ins don’t have playgrounds anymore, due to rising liability insurance costs.

There you go, all you need for a comfortable evening.

So if there’s a drive-in left anywhere near your town, why not give it a try instead of spending all that money at a megaplex - and support a worthy cause in the process. The Drive-in is an integral part of our movie heritage, one that we can ill afford to slip into extinction. Just as the massive stadium-seating movie palaces are springing up everywhere now, so did the glorious drive-ins once dominate the horizon, their brightly-lit neon marquees shining like a welcome beacon to passing travelers . . . okay, I’ve waxed nostalgic enough, just get your behind out there.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=375
originally posted: 05/24/01 19:44:07
last updated: 03/22/04 09:52:23
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