I have been to a number of midnight shows in my time, ranging from Snakes on a Plane to Avatar. I tend to think these “first” screenings lend themselves to some of the best theatrical experiences possible, though it can definitely be a risk. There’s something about midnight shows, a fanatical quality that makes them great but can also make them quite bad.
In many ways, midnight screenings are like the very best film festival screenings. Generally, the people who are willing to drag themselves out to a show, stand in line for a couple of hours and watch a movie until some ungodly hour in the morning are also the people who will be the best audience. Why? Because they actually want to be there. For example, for all this recent talk about allowing texting at the cinema, I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody pull out a phone to text at a midnight screening. That’s the difference between a regular audience where half the people are just there to be passively entertained and a truly excited and engaged audience.
I suppose the problems can come when an audience is too engaged. A good example is the midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The excitement was thick in the air, and that made the 4-5 hour wait in line quite fun, but when the lights dimmed and the movie started so did the trouble. Whereas the midnight crowd for the previous film was quite respectful and drawn into the film’s darker tone, for the final film in the series the excitement was just too high. People cheered and clapped at almost every little thing. A bit of cheering is okay, but when it happens all the time it gets in the way of the film. It was only on subsequent viewing that I was better able to appreciate the tone and construction of the film, because at midnight it was all a blur of action and wild audience.
Then again, that kind of excitement can lead to great things. One of the best audience experiences I’ve ever had was the midnight show of The Dark Knight in IMAX. I was there about 6 hours before the show started. The wait was long, but fun. There was a guy dressed as Batman being stalked by guys dressed as the Joker’s henchmen. During the IMAX pre-show laser extravaganza a guy stood up and started dancing like it was a night club. The Watchmen trailer with the Smashing Pumpkins song was badass. We were pumped. Then the movie started and Christopher Nolan’s bold camerawork and the stunning IMAX images and scenes pulled the audience in so well that if it wasn’t for the loud IMAX sound system you could probably have heard a pin drop. Except at crucial moments. “Do you want to see a magic trick?” Gasps. Moments like those were amazing to experience with an equally engaged crowd. The truck chase was so amazing to watch, and when that truck flipped followed by the Batpod climbing up the wall happened, well, the cheering and hollering was well-earned and extremely cathartic. So was the cheering at the end when Batman races into the light and the title flashes on the screen. That’s the kind of show cinema was made for. Not just a personal experience, but one connecting a group of 200+ complete strangers in a suspense and awe.
So midnight shows can have their advantages and disadvantages. Have you ever been to a midnight show? Do you enjoy them or try to avoid them? Apart from midnight shows have you had some great cinema experiences where the audience was totally engaged? Leave me a comment below and share it.