The Sunday Salon: The Midnight Premiere

In my head, my year is separated into two halves—the holidays (October through April—Halloween through Easter) and geek season (April through September—Renaissance Festival through Dragon*Con). This isn’t a hard and fast rule; obviously, this December is going to be awesome. A subsection of geek season is the glory of summer movies, and another cinematic summer is upon us! (…summer has four months in the South. And, yes, The Hunger Games technically kicked off blockbuster season this year, but it lacked, you know, being released in summer.) It’s time, ladies and gentlemen—time for the midnight premiere.

In 1980, the first big midnight premiere happened in Seattle; The Empire Strikes Back was screened at 12:01 AM at the now demolished UA 150 Theater during the Fifth Seattle International Film Festival. Over eight hundred fans waited in line to be the very first to see the sequel to Star Wars. Reports sound familiar to the scene I experienced Thursday night at The Avengers; screaming, cheering, laughing, and girls swooning over heroic leads. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s article from the day of is a treat for those who enjoy fandom history. Since then, midnight premieres have been happening—I was first aware of them with Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, when I heard about people lining up for days. It feels like midnight movie releases have been increasing in number over the years, though. Last summer, The Cinema Snob and friends went to every midnight release offered by their local cinema, and they saw some movies I was stunned to see even had midnight releases. They’re doing it again this summer, if you’re interested. (Language warning!)

Star Wars Improvisational Street Theatre II

Midnight book releases (oh, yeah, this is a book blog!) have a much more recent history, starting with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Fans were already so ravenous that they would import the UK edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets before it was released in the US; releasing the book at midnight was a logical idea for bookstores both chain and local. I actually attended a release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as a wee lass, and didn’t realize that was kind of important until researching this post. Cool! Since then, midnight book releases have become a staple of young adult series with ravenous fanbases, from Twilight to The Hunger Games. These tend to, in my experience, happen after the first book, because publishers seem to want to be surer to have a fanbase on hand before diving in.

So, why midnight premieres? For a more cynical outlook, let’s look to David Weitzner, from USC’s School of Cinematic Art: “he thinks the midnight premiere came about as a result of the industry’s greed“. In a time when films (and books!) are looking for ways to compete against people budgeting and piracy, making midnight releases big events makes a lot of sense. When we arrived for The Avengers, the IMAX 3D line was packed. The numbers corresponded nationwide—currently, the film has earned the  second biggest single day box office haul. It might be greedy, but it’s definitely working.

Breaking Dawn release party

But, shockingly, I prefer the fannish approach. In Textual Poachers, Henry Jenkins describes first releases:

Group viewing situations are common in fandom; fans wait in long lines to see the first showings of hot summer releases, knowing that the initial audience will be full of fans like themselves who will vocally participate in the emotional experience of the film. (76)

Publishers and studios are just picking up on that; it’s no mistake that The Empire Strikes Back was the first blockbuster midnight release. It’s why midnight book releases are relatively rare, all things considered—it’s something done for something that has spawned a fandom, and that’s a strange alchemy I’ll talk about in another Sunday Salon.

Personally? There’s nothing like a packed house of people who love—or want to love—a movie as much as you do, prepared to stay up obscenely late for the privilege of being one of the first people to see it. It’s a sign of devotion, that you’re willing to sacrifice sleep and productivity for it, you know? (Although I caution you, if you can’t, you can’t; do not punish yourself.) But the real draw is the energy.

Last Midnight Madness

I met a little girl and her dad at the screening because she said, “Hi, Thor!” as I walked by. She was clearly super-excited to see the movie, and told me that if she had dressed up, she would have come as Hulk because he’s her favorite. (How adorable is it that her favorite superhero is the biggest, baddest dude on the team?) And that’s the reason I go to midnight premieres. I, and everyone else there, was just as excited and appreciative as this little girl was, and we were all there to watch actively and respectfully.To a geek, our minds were blown—but that’s a different post for a different tomorrow, eh? Patience!

Here, have a picture of me as Thor, because Memory asked for it: 

The end of the semester always punches me right in the face! And it’s worse, because all my senior friends are leaving and I’m going to miss them. I plan on being pen pals to combat this silly notion of graduating college. I’ve been toiling on a paper on Evelina for the past two days, managed to scrape up a decent grade in my Economics class, and finished up my Introduction to Creative Writing portfolio. In the next two days, I have to pack and move, but I’ve got two internships lined up for the summer, so I’m super-excited.

Kristen at Fantasy Book Cafe as the Newsflesh trilogy until May 16th. HBO is giving away two crowns from Game of Thrones until  Monday.  The Baen Free Library is full of free downloads, including The Shadow of the Lion and On Basilisk Station. Night Shade Books is offering Butcher Bird and Grey as free downloads at the moment. Vertigo Comics is offering free downloads of the first issue of several series, including Fables, The Unwritten, and Y: The Last Man. (And you will go download The Unwritten.) Small Beer Press offers several of their books as free downloads, including Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners. If I’ve missed your giveaway or freebie, drop me a line!

Tell me about your adventures in midnight releases and/or screenings! What’s been your favorite, if you have? What’s been keeping you, if you haven’t?

5 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: The Midnight Premiere

  1. I prefer the fannish approach too. It makes me sad to never have experienced a midnight première or book release. I did attempt to go to one for Deathly Hallows (I figured the main bookshop in town would surely have one, considering that it was, you know, the last Harry Potter book), only to get there and find the door closed and a couple of other disappointed fans turning away. SADNESS. At least we got to be let down together, though, so there was a little bit of that communal experience 😛

    Anyway, love the picture of you as Thor.

  2. I second the motion that you look great as Thor.

    I like fandom, I like excitement, but I’m not a fan of people being obnoxious. When I went to the midnight show, my theater had a lot of people being obnoxious. One guy acted like he was part of the theater staff and got everyone’s attention just to say something like, “Steve Rogers can kick Tony Stark’s ass.”

    Interesting things to note as far as fandom goes: The audience got quiet when the preview for SPIDER-MAN BEGINS came on. They became absolutely silent when the preview for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES came on after that.

    And I’ve been asked why Batman didn’t show up in AVENGERS.

  3. Love your outfit! I love going to midnight showings, when you get a good crowd. Unfortunately, my crowd for The Hunger Games was awful. It was a little sad, I’ll admit. But my crowd for The Deathly Hallows Pt 2 was AMAZING. I actually went by myself (I tried to get some friends to go, but I bought one of the last tickets) and as luck would have it, sat next to a girl who also went by herself. We’ll never see each other again, but we had a lot of fun talking about mutual friends (the movie theater was across the street from my high school) and fan-love for HP. I also went to a midnight release party for Deathly Hallows and my friends all dressed up. I didn’t and I wish I did! They were handing out Harry Potter glasses though, and I, for whatever reason, ended up with five or six of them. I’ll still run across one in my junk drawer and wear them around.

  4. …this is me being late, late, late. Your Thor costume is awesome.

    I’ve been to three midnight premieres: two for books (the final Harry Potter titles, of course!) and one for the last Star Wars prequel. They were EPIC for all the reasons you cite. There was such a sense of community at each event, such a “we’re all here because we love this” vibe. The HP releases were chock full of exciting activities and suchlike, but I think the Star Wars premiere hit me hardest. My friend and I talked to everyone in our general vicinity, first in the line to get into the theatre and then once we knew who we’d be sitting next to for duration of the film. We ended up beside a boy who was still in high school and couldn’t quite believe we were in our early twenties. He and I had a wonderful discussion about how the double-flavoured Oreos the theatre staff handed out were a metaphor for Anakin’s descent into darkness.

    I’m almost certain he was drunk, but at least he was a happy drunk.

    Once the movie started, the audience reacted more or less as one being. We all laughed, gasped, cheered, or screamed “Nooooooo!!!!!” at the same bits. It was intense.

    The HP events were mostly about camaraderie. We hobnobbed with other fans (including our high school librarian, who became a professional McGonagall impersonator) and ate snacks described in the books and just generally geeked out. Then, at the end of each night, we grabbed our books and raced home to read them.

    • Those sound great! I actually just spent the better half of two days listening to commentaries and rants about the Star Wars prequels, since I watched the original trilogy last week for really the first time.

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