Last night we went as a family to check out “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” at our local drive-in. The movie itself did not disappoint, as our friendly quartet of zoo animals head to Monte Carlo this time around. An abundance of non-stop action and bright, colorful circus acts absolutely delighted my children. But even more fun than seeing an entertaining, animated film was the fact that we were in our car and the kids were in their pajamas. We brought our own popcorn and drinks from home and made ourselves comfortable while enjoying the cool, fresh air. Listening to the sound coming through the car’s stereo system I was reminded of the drive-in experience of my youth when my parents would bring me to this very same drive-in theater.
By the time I was born, drive-in theaters were on the decline due to rising real estate costs and the invention of VCRs and video rentals. In the height of their popularity in the 1950s and ‘60s, rural areas with acres of wide open spaces were the ideal places for large movie screens and hundreds of cars to gather watch the latest films. In the beginning, the sound was broadcast in various ways, from speakers on the screen itself, then from a row of speakers in front of the cars. Later, the sound was pumped out through small, tinny-sounding speakers that each car could utilize complete with their own volume controls. This is what I remember from my childhood: the scratchy, monophonic sound coming from the (1!) speaker hanging from the car window.
Today the sound is transmitted through an FM station and is piped in right through our car speakers. Gone are the days of worrying about parking close enough to the pole so the speaker can reach…no more messy wires to deal with. The drive-in experience is really quite fun in the summer time. It’s a very convenient option for kids who may not want to sit still for an entire feature film or can’t remain quiet.
Truth be told, I am positive I would have a better quality movie-watching experience in the comfort of my own home. My home theater system, complete with a large flat-screen TV, surround sound and earth-moving subwoofer – not to mention easy access to the restroom and kitchen – is hard to beat. It’s the novelty and nostalgic fun that brings my family back to the drive-in every summer. The things we do for kids.