Are moviegoers passing on planned trips to the theater?

Friday, July 20, 2012 - 5:27pm

Thais Mills was looking forward to taking her 7-year-old niece to see "The Dark Knight Rises" Friday evening at 8:15. But in the wake of the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, the 31-year-old from New Orleans will surrender the movie tickets she bought for about $20 in advance.

"I just feel like now the movie theater is, it's not a place of peace," Mills said. "Think about how vulnerable you are. You're in a dark room sitting next to people you don't know. Until something is concocted that can ensure my safety, I just feel more comfortable at the house."

But not all moviegoers will steer clear of the theater.

Despite the many users on social networking sites who echoed Mills' grief and fear, more than 2,000 people were checked in to "The Dark Knight Rises" on GetGlue as of 11:30 a.m. on Friday.

Twitter user @sophiacrowley wrote: "I refuse to live in fear, this won't deter me from going to the movies anymore than 9/11 stopped me from flying."

Other users expressed similar sentiments, tweeting, "It's sad what happened but it's not going to stop me from going about my daily life or even going to the movies."

For former film critic Steven Senski, avoiding the theater isn't the answer. However, the 49-year-old Muskego, Wisconsin, resident who managed a movie theater in 2003, said he's "very much disinclined to attend a midnight showing."

"Midnight showings are, and have always had a unique certain air about them," Senski said. "You do bring in patrons fresh from the bar, patrons who are sleep deprived, and in cases like 'The Dark Knight Rises,' you bring in people who may be dressed, costumed. It is a very joyous atmosphere, but it feels out of the theater's control."

Both Senski and Mills agree that one reason so many people enjoy going to the movies is because it offers an escape from reality.

"A movie theater should be one of the safest places you can be," Senski said. "When we go to the theater, when the lights come down, there's that feeling of ... whatever your problems, whatever your concerns, you're going to set them aside for two hours and hopefully be entertained."

Though Warner Bros., the studio behind the movie, canceled its Paris premiere, it said it was "deeply saddened" by the incident but would not cancel any screenings.

The Department of Homeland Security reissued a checklist to theater operators, covering security and emergency procedures. It also reminded them to ensure their staffs are properly trained.

The National Association of Theatre Owners, which represents more than 30,000 movie screens, said it was "working closely with local law enforcement agencies and reviewing security procedures."

"On behalf of all the members and staff of the National Association of Theatre Owners, our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of this despicable act and their families," a statement says. "We are grateful for the quick and effective response by police and emergency personnel. Guest safety is, and will continue to be a priority for theater owners."

Mills, a Katrina survivor, said, "There has to be a sense of togetherness to get us through," and it will take time before she feels comfortable going to the movie theater again.

Her niece, who watched the tragedy unfold on TV, "is more than shaken up," Mills said, noting the pair typically see one movie together every week. "It's the most affordable form of outdoor entertainment," she added.

Still, her niece's safety and peace of mind come first. "I'm going to have to keep a close eye on her and see where her comfort levels are, but for now we'll just be enjoying some old DVDs."

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