When Hollywood counted up the box office for 2004, there was a telling paradox in the figures. Revenue was up, at $9.4 billion, but movie attendance dropped by 1.7 percent.

The explanation is that fewer filmgoers paid higher ticket prices. If you wanted one reason for the dropoff, a Loews multiplex one morning over the holidays was a pretty good place to look.

The listed time for the first showing of “Ocean’s Twelve” was 11:10 a.m. My wife and I arrived a few minutes early. We sat down and waited for the heist to begin. And waited. And waited. As one obnoxious ad with ramped-up volume succeeded another, I decided to put Loews on the clock.

After the barrage of commercials had gone on for 10 minutes with no sign of stopping, I felt an overwhelming urge to turn to the couple behind us – who had been nattering nonstop and raising their voices to be heard over the ads – and shout above the din, “Would you mind talking a little louder? I can still hear the commercials!”

When an air-headed surfer pushing the American Express card (may he lose it in the next wave and be billed for the rest of his life) finally left the screen, we waited for George Clooney and the gang to start stealing something. Which, when you get down to it, is what Loews and the other theater chains routinely and arrogantly do with the time of their captive audiences.

Instead, we were regaled at an even louder volume with previews for pictures you’d never go near.

“Ocean’s Twelve” actually started at 11:38.

Parents don’t need to be told what it costs to take the kids to a movie. Now they lose their time as well as their money.

The people who own the screens ought to start thinking about it. In November, Daily Variety published a study that found preshow ads were having a dampening effect on the box office. If theater owners want another reason to worry, they should check the rentals and sales of DVDs, which have helped pushed Hollywood’s video take to $24.5 billion a year.

But nobody at the multiplexes seems to notice or care.

Taking in a movie used to provide an oasis from the avalanche of hucksterism in our daily lives. If you pay your own good money for a movie or, for that matter, Internet service, nobody should be allowed to intrude on it with ads.

Home theater may never rival a cinema, but the gap is closing, and many movie lovers can live with the difference. They now watch movies without ever going to the movies. I like to think that Variety’s study and the declining number of moviegoers are the first signs of rebellion. Just down the road from the Loews is a multiplex that closed for lack of business.

By the time “Ocean’s Twelve” finally started, I had almost forgotten what movie we’d come to see. The sequel was a disappointment, but at least I realized why Clooney, Julia Roberts, and the rest of the stars looked so terminally smug. They don’t have to sit around for half an hour of unsolicited drivel before they watch the movie of their choice.


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