Why are those people camping in line?
HOLLYWOOD, CALIF., AND BOSTON
It's midnight, midweek at the multiplex. Bloated with malt balls and Milk Duds, they have queued stoically even amiably for hours, in some cases for days.Skip to next paragraph
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As many while away the hours giggling behind masks of Jar-Jar Binks, Jabba the Hutt, and Yoda, the overwhelming majority of their friends are home asleep, readying for real jobs or school in the morning. Some have even come prepared with tents, cots, sleeping bags, backpacks, sunblock, parasols, battery-fans, and personal masseuses. The conclusion: more Americans, more often, gotta be there opening day.
With 'round-the-block lines at this week's opening of "Attack of the Clones" as with "Spider-man" and "Harry Potter" in recent months a key question is gaining merit from sea to shining sea: "What, in the love of Pete, are these people doing?".
Whether motivated by the dark side of the force (competition, pride) or the light (punctuality, promptness) or just suckered by advertising hype the movie-going norm is shifting as Americans clamor to share in the collective experience of a movie event.
"It's a huge shared ritual," says Tim Burke, a culture historian, at Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore, Pa. "It means on Monday morning, around the watercooler, there's a notion of a shared experience."
Here at the Grauman Chinese in the heart of Hollywood, close to 1,000 people are waiting for the midnight debut of "Clones."
"Seeing a great movie with a thousand other people who really love it is something that you can't get in a normal cinema experience," says Jason Barnes, sitting in line here with his buddy, B.J. Horn. The duo went to college together at nearby Cal Tech, saw a "Star Wars" film on graduation day three years ago, and have met here today to repeat the experience.
For some, forgoing a good night's sleep to be a part of the stampede to see the film is driven by more competitive reasons.
"I had to see this movie before my older sister," says 12-year-old Amanda Smith, standing in line for the 12:01 midnight show of "Star Wars" in Hollywood. "I just had to beat her to it."
Clinton Burke, another patient patron, adds, "I wanted to earn points with my kids. It's cool for them to be ahead of their schoolmates."
The phenomenon of crowds at blockbusters is a logical extension of both the information and competition culture," says Carol Donelan, a professor of media studies at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
"We like our movies and we want our regular fix. But this new push to get there first has to do with the perceived power that accrues to us when we have knowledge that others don't."
If true, that Darth-Vader-like search for power will be costly. Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that 2.6 million full-time workers earning an average $122.80 a day will decide to take an unscheduled day off work to see the new "Star Wars." That's $319 million worth of playing hooky.
But movie studios are not complaining.
Driven by the need to get return on their investments for increasingly expensive movies, studios are increasingly front-loading their advertising for opening weekend, rather than spreading it out for the long runs of yesteryear.