There’s a part of of movie history that’s fading out of America very quickly. The drive-in movie theater was once a thriving aspect of film exhibition with over 4000 screens nationwide. Today the number has dwindled to under 350. This is probably due to urban expansion forcing the drive-in business out to rural areas. Showing movies usually requires darkness, a rare thing if you live in a large city where all street lights and storefronts shine brightly all night. Driving up South Blvd. in Charlotte the remnants of the Queen Drive-In still remain. The Seattle Space Needle-like iron tower marquee still stands tall on the corner, rusting in place. The theater closed for good in the late 70s due a very strong wind blowing the screen over during, ironically, a showing of Gone With The Wind. The former site of the theater is still an open space, but it has mostly been taken to make a parking lot for a nearby light-rail station. Up until the late 80s, there were at least 8 drive in theaters in Charlotte city limits. Today all of those screens have gone dark. So to get to a drive-in, we drove an hour from home. Well worth it if you are tired of being crammed into mutli-plexes for big summer releases.
I had never been to a drive-in movie theater before so I really didn’t know what to expect when my girlfriend and I arrived at the Badin Road Drive-In in Albemarle, NC. This drive-in has 2 screens, we had chosen the double feature of The Avengers & Battleship. It only cost us $12 for the both of us to see two first run movies. Already this has a leg up on conventional theaters just on the price. This was Memorial Day weekend, so expecting a huge turnout we arrived around 6:30pm. There were only a few cars there when we pulled up, but soon there was a line out into the road to get into the theater. While it true that we waited over two hours for the first movie to start, it gave us time to actually talk to each other, read, listen to music and just relax in general in the comfort of my own car. I wonder if all those people who show up for a big movie 10 hours in advance to sit on a theater hallway floor to get good seats know that there is a better way to go? I was expecting some box speakers on posts, but the theater broadcasts the film soundtracks on AM & FM radio stations. So if you have a killer sound system in your car, you may get a better quality presentation that in a conventional theater. The screen we were facing was the bigger of the two, which looked to be at least 50 feet tall. With the theater filling up with cars and the sun going down The Avengers was about to hit the screen.
After Disney’s (that’s right people, get used to it) The Avengers burst open the summer 2012 summer movie season with a jaw-dropping 200+ million dollar opening weekend, I was of course immediately skeptical that the movie was any good at all. I didn’t think that the hype was that huge on Avengers, but I guess people had been waiting for this for a long time. I had seen all of Marvel’s prior movie offerings leading up to The Avengers, so I was well prepared. Some actors shine more than others in The Avengers. Robert Downey Jr. continues to bring his signature quick wit to the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man (sorry for spoiling the secret identity there). Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth and newcomer Mark Ruffalo, as Captain America, Thor & The Hulk respectively, are serviceable in their superhero persona. Scarlett Johansson does a great job showing off her superpowers as Black Widow, having boobs and shooting guns. The story itself was a good starting point for the franchise, but anyone who has read some of the latest stories to come from House Marvel knows there is the potential for some truly great films in the future. Secret Invasion, anyone?
After a brief intermission, the second half of the double feature started. I had no expectations that Battleship would be any good at all, so it was no letdown when it sucked. Movies that are based on board games automatically have almost no chance of succeeding, though apparently Real Steel (aka Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots) was a decent flick. Battleship suffers from some of the worst non-acting I’ve ever seen in a summer blockbuster. Even worse than Harvey Fierstein in Independence Day. Rhianna was cast in this movie originally just because they wanted her forehead to play the aircraft carrier, but that fell through when she kept getting acne breakouts which caused the planes to crash upon landing. It got messy, so they just gave her a small tough chick role instead. Where are you when I need you, Michelle Rodriguez? I’m sure to get some flak for this one, but the disabled war veteran with replacement metal legs (aka black man angry at the world) has got to be given a cameo instead of a major role. The man delivers lines with zero emphasis. I didn’t actually think that was possible, but he did it. I have respect for all soldiers and veterans, but they should respect us as well and not subject us to the worst acting of the year. I smell a Razzie for for each of them. Liam Neeson shows up to provide a glimmer of hope that this isn’t a total waste of time, but it’s just not enough. Director Peter Berg, who has directed a few movies, all better than this, relied a bit too much on the fact that watching dots appear and disappear on a radar is exciting with the right music behind it. It isn’t. He’s not James Cameron, and this was NOT Aliens. I will give the movie credit for having some great sound. My car shook from the bass, that’s not easy to do with factory speakers.
When the credits rolled on Battleship it was around 2am. Less than 2/3 of the cars that were there when The Avengers started remained. Despite sitting through the waste of time that Battleship was, I still thoroughly enjoyed my experience. It is a unique thing to have a movie screen completely fill your car windshield and look out your sunroof to see a plane fly by overhead. Is it ever too cold in a movie theater? At a drive-in you have climate control on your dashboard. Did I mention that they have a grill at the concession stand with some damn good burgers and milkshakes? I’m all but ready to ditch indoor theaters completely. The only catch? Movie selection is very limited in the drive-in, though some places run triple features(!) for only $6 on select weekends. There are 4 operating drive-in theaters within an hour of Charlotte. I would highly recommend seeing if there is one in your area that still operates. Help keep this part of American movie culture alive!