Let’s help Milaca Theater go digital (and stay open)

At Random

The time had finally come. We had been waiting for months for its release. My mother-in-law, my stepson and myself had read the books and we’d seen the movie trailers. Everything we had imagined was about to take place on the big screen, and from all reports, it was going to be epic.

But returning to the Milaca Theater Saturday evening for the opening weekend of “Hunger Games” was like stepping through a time warp — and not because of the futuristic setting of the movie.

It had been nearly 15 years since I stepped foot into that building, but once the smells of popcorn and the sight of the Mrs. Pac Man arcade invaded my senses, it could have been just last week. There I was — 13 again and super stoked to see the latest flick. If it weren’t for the presence of the step-kids (the oldest of whom is too-quickly approaching those precious teenage years), I may have stood in the lobby for even longer than I did, choking back the sadness of youth long passed.

The entire place seems smaller than I remember. The screen, the seats, even the concessions stand appeared to have taken a long trip through a commercial dryer set on high. As a kid, I could barely see over the counter (but the candy was at eye-level — which is just smart business). I would race to the front rows to secure a seat so I could watch the movie free of the towering silhouettes blocking my view of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The Movie.” And zipping through the tightly packed theater seats was a breeze at 9. Not so much at 29.

When I looked up the Milaca Theater’s show times and admission rates on its Website, I was surprised to see that the price to watch a movie in Milaca hasn’t changed very much in that decade and a half. It cost the four of us about one-third of what we have paid at other theaters. From the tickets to the Twizzlers, we saved big time.

Despite the wallet-friendly night out, another page on the theater’s Website worries me. The transition from reel-to-reel to digital is endangering small local theaters like Milaca. The cost to replace the screen so the new digital format can be viewed is no small chunk of change. It was nice to see the owners of our local picture house hope to pay for the upgrade through donations rather than increase their prices. But during a time when local food shelves are struggling to meet demand, I fear donations may be hard to find.

The change-over will happen this fall, whether local theaters are ready or not. It will be up to the residents of these quickly vanishing, small-town staples to support their local theaters before it’s too late.

I will do my best to keep the Milaca Theater around and keep those fantastic prices level. Now that I know the bargain offered locally, our family can afford to see more films — plus we save on gas rather than driving 30 miles to the big cinemas. I will drop a few bucks in the donation box and I’ll probably have to opt for the jumbo popcorn (the finger-licking habit of the kids completely grosses me out — so I’ll spring for their own).

But I will need help. I urge those who remember growing up attending movies in Milaca to support the theater. Encourage teenagers to stay in town for their movie night instead of driving to the “big city” to the west with their friends. Help me fill that donation box with a few dollars — even if it’s just the difference in price that one would pay at an 18-screen theater.

Who knows? Maybe the 9, 12, and 16-year-olds of today will return to Milaca 15 or 20 years from now and marvel at how the heck everything became so small.