The closing of the Arclight and Pacific cinema chains may have provided the Oscars with a general theme this year beyond just celebrating the best in movies: spread the word to save theaters.
The news that Pacific Theatres will not reopen its locations in California, including the famed Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry on Monday, leading people to reminisce about films they had seen there.
“I’m so sad,” tweeted actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, summing up the response. “I remember going to the Cinerama Dome to see ‘Star Trek IV’ with my dad when I was little. So many memories since then. “
Others had similar experiences. Personally, I remember seeing “The Wind and the Lion” as a kid in the mid-1970s, and seeing Sean Connery wield a sword in epic, swashbuckling fashion. Connery will be among the standout names in this year’s Academy Awards “In Memoriam” segment.
The Oscars have always acted as a primetime advertisement for movies, honoring both their history and present and introducing them to a worldwide audience. Although a year of pandemic-related closures hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for escape into entertainment, it has cast doubt on the future of theaters, and whether people fed a steady diet of streaming content into their homes would be as easily enticed out of them, particularly if public-health concerns about mass gatherings and crowded indoor spaces persist.
The focus on social media quickly shifted to attempts to “save” the Cinerama Dome in particular, and it seems that someone will, whether it’s a consortium or a company like Netflix, which last year purchased Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre, acknowledging the goodwill that would come from ensuring the survival of such a historic landmark.
However, the larger issue of what happens to film and moviegoing remains unanswered. Any promising indication, such as “Godzilla vs. Kong’s” pandemic-best box-office performance in the United States, a film whose big names scream for a screen of equal stature, appears to have been countered by a cautionary disclaimer, a delayed release, or some other move backward.
In this climate, award shows have suffered, and low ratings for the Grammys and Golden Globes have fueled gloomy predictions for the Oscars, which will air on April 25. The event’s organizers have forged ahead with what they hope would be a less-virtual presentation, which could raise spirits but is unlikely to increase viewership.
Even, if the response to the Arclight and Pacific news is any indication, the film industry is at a precarious crossroads, giving the awards’ celebratory aspect a simpler and more urgent task.
Whatever film wins best picture this year would almost certainly have had the most attention from people watching on their couches rather than in theater seats. As the film industry prepares for a summer and fall with far higher expectations than 2020, reminding viewers not just of what they saw, but also of what they’ve been lacking, might be the most critical activity these Oscars can accomplish.