This is a story that begins on December 25, 2013. It was the first day of Christmas, but the twelfth day since The Hobbit came out again. 12 drummers drumming, more hobbits walking; neither was the only option. Screens that weren’t showing American Hustle played The Wolf of Wall Street. The temperature in both theaters was too high, as simple as some guy behind the curtain gets stoned and bumps into the thermostat, there were no extra seats to leave their coats.
Some went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for one friend; others watched Anchorman 2 for another – the spirit of giving was everywhere. We learned that if you weren’t seeing the movie you wanted to see, someone was seeing it for you. Like The Hobbit, we were just getting started. Will you join me one last time? How about three more? Every time someone buys a ticket to 47 Ronin, the box office employee scratches a pen mark into a wall that’s painted red. That’s some money right there.
After the movies happen the presents are waiting beneath the tree and everyone sits in the living room eyeing them with immovable legs, it tickles just to stand. “Maybe the movies are getting too long,” someone says, “wish they would chill if you know what I mean.”
Dad was the last to see Frozen that year, he had only himself to blame.
December 24, 2014. The Hobbit option seemed somehow less optional than Interstellar or Mockingjay did the month before. Movies kept coming and we were guilty of each one more than the last; not every franchise could be our silver lining but we were proud of every last one for trying. One sense of life was fading as a new one emerged, we traded out eggnog for white wine but that didn’t mean we weren’t still drunk — in fact we were drunker.
Day two at home, you could’ve licked all the snow off the front lawn in one long breath. The boys took turns playing Tokyo Drift in the cul-de-sac. They had just checked online for The Interview but even Piratebay was down. And we thought we were saying goodbye to The Hobbit. Mom couldn’t eat all of Santa’s cookies like before so she tiptoed into the kitchen and buried them in the trash like somebody’s first condom. She noticed the boys’ advent calendars hidden beneath a stack of Harry Potter blu-rays and swore again that this was the last year she’d buy them, you could even buy the chocolate separately and save a few bucks, one dollar doesn’t get you a Redbox anymore.
Crowded around Fandango, Annie or Into the Woods, either works for grandma but which one is less of a musical for the rest of us. This is the drama of the holiday and the family divides, they stand in separate concession lines and stare straight ahead. No one’s thought of a punchline yet. Both of these musicals had been done at the middle school years before but as you may remember there are no daughters in the family.
Shana works the concession stand and watches the older son, he’s attractive and quiet. She can’t tell if he’s looking back at her or beyond to the Jurassic World poster. Minutes later the lights dim and it’s sad to see Robin Williams pretending to be Teddy Roosevelt in Night at the Museum 3, but not as sad as seeing Paul Walker play himself in the Fast & Furious teaser. Even movies turned out to be relative, like Vin Diesel speaking over the last public image of Paul, not the apostle, but ours, untouchable in plain sight. On Christmas, we don’t have friends; we have family.
Vin didn’t know it, but for him, Christmas was a life sentence.
2015. That year there was Star Wars: The Force Awakens and nothing else. Slip back inside it and remember exactly where you were: the earliest showtime on Christmas Day is for 10:00am and everyone goes. The tickets have been ceremonially pre-ordered, wrapped up tight and hidden in the boughs of an otherwise-undecorated tree; everyone knows what and where they were the whole time, it was the first time they’d heard the printer printing in months. Someone hasn’t even bothered to wrap a bluray copy of Finding Dory, there’s just a silver bow stuck over Dory’s fish-face. From no one. For anyone.
In the excitement we had skipped church the night before. James Cameron was on TV making promises with Avatar 2, its release delayed by another year, did he find it risky to release his baby on a national holiday? “This isn’t a growth industry” she says, “not for everyone,” he replies. Who could think of midnight mass with the world’s only box office on the line?
One of the other employees at the AMC ran out of gas on the way to work so the line was extra long. Shana was working the counter and she fingered the pen marks on the wall that said how many people had gone to see 47 Ronin two Christmases ago, it was an infamous totem among the co-workers and hadn’t been washed, there were seven marks in total. She was only seventeen. She would live to see Lupita Nyong’o win another Oscar, but not this year. One of her neighbors defaulted to Sisters after Star Wars sold out. The runtimes were different, he beat the crowds to the lobby by twenty minutes like someone grasping at a bronze medal but the traffic patterns on the interstate were different too, he lost both legs in a car accident driving home.
Beyond the tickets there were some other presents but we forgot to open them until 2 days later. By that point everyone in Los Angeles including James Cameron knew that Star Wars had opened to $95,310,045 following an opening day of $37,891,423. Better than Mockingjay Part 2 but who was counting.
Avatar 2, it must be December again, quicker and quicker every year. Sequels aren’t movies — they’re reasons to live. We keep expecting The Hobbit to knock again but guess those guys ran out of places to walk after all. You know, Roger Ebert was around to review the first one, that’s what feels different. None of this will make it into one of Leonard Maltin’s fat books, so why bother writing it down. When you say that movies have changed, do you mean you like them better?
Shana from the box office saw it in 3D on December 25th, skip the IMAX, leave one dimension to grow on. For some reason even she had the day off. Tickets cost $26 after convenience fees but it felt like an okay sacrifice to make in exchange for having a female president. When she felt the third act coming she rummaged around to re-apply her lipstick, but Avatar 2 continued for another ninety minutes. She thought of the past and felt dizzy. She was always blind in 3D. In 2012 she had repeatedly cited to friends that The Avengers was her first 3D experience when in fact it was The Lorax, seen two months prior in total secrecy. The first lie but not the last, no idea where it began.
December in the city, your brother waited too long to book a flight and now he’s stuck down there with a half-Jewish girlfriend and some deep thoughts. December at home, slick hardwoods and takeout’s in the fridge. Don’t forget to leave the gate up for the dogs. December at the movies, long lines. Everyone feels healthy as they sit down, quiet after, you could argue they have participated in something.
December of the body, Avatar 2. December at my local mall, the shops are busy but we can’t remember why, colorless lights. Children line up to sit on a famous director’s lap. James Cameron is clean shaven today, and he isn’t wearing red. He didn’t forget — he just hadn’t thought of it.