The Conversation: 'The Artist' is Silent? When is It Okay to Ask for a Refund at the Movies?

The Conversation: 'The Artist' is Silent? When is It Okay to Ask for a Refund at the Movies?

Jan 18, 2012

Every once in a while this kind of story pops up for people to laugh or tweet the words "face palm" about: a moviegoer sees a film that wasn't what they expected, and they want their money back. Sometimes, as in the case of a woman who thought Drive was going to be like The Fast and the Furious, they even sue. Many cinema chains have to please their patrons to avoid a bigger fuss (as a former theater manager, I know this very well), while heroic indie art houses get praise for denying refunds when the issue is just that someone was bored with The Tree of Life.

Now, according to the Telegraph, Odeon theaters in the UK are seeing walk-outs of the Golden Globe winner The Artist because it's a silent film (and because it's not widescreen), and those unaware of this are indeed getting refunds when they complain. It seems they're not staying for the full experience so they have a right, to the extent that they aren't getting the product that they've paid for. Few people agree, though, that they should be appeased when it's their own fault for being unaware, stupid and without proper taste.

But moviegoing shouldn't be a gamble. And I find it funny that this latest story is generating so much defense of the goods when just last week people were arguing that we shouldn't be screwed over with cheap product at the cinema, such as in the case of The Devil Inside. I also don't believe moviegoers need to do a lot of research before entering an auditorium. Reviews aren't that important, nor truth, and marketing is deceptive. And movies aren't a car or a computer, though they're getting up there in price, so they shouldn't require lots of legwork. 

Of course, we don't usually ask for refunds when a Snickers doesn't completely satisfy or a Gatorade doesn't entirely quench our thirst or if our Chinese take out doesn't fill us up for more than an hour. Then again, movies aren't food. They may not be a physical asset, but movies are consumer goods and if we don't like what we paid for we ought to be able to return it, right? The best sort of protest and the best sort of sign of approval in our society is with our wallets, and we vote by not spending the money in the first place or by demanding it back when we think we're unsatisfied.

We tell readers all the time to vote with their wallets by not seeing bad movies, so why can't other people vote with their wallets when it comes to the kind of movies they don't like? I may agree that The Artist is a rip-off (it's just a rehash of other movies) and I may agree that the person who refuses any film just because it's silent is an uncultured fool, but not everyone can be like me or you. That all said, if you dislike this post, I'm sorry but you can not have a refund of the ad money we have received from your pageview.

What are people saying about the Artist refunds? Here's The Conversation heard around the Internet: 

It’s not that surprising. If you haven’t seen the movie, it sounds like the most obnoxious, fussy, pretentious gimmick, and even though the movie actually turns out to be pretty cute, if a woman can sue over Drive not being enough like Fast and Furious, you have to expect complaints over a silent film where no one even gets their skull crushed. People just like to complain, really. I’m still demanding my refund for The Iron Lady. I saw it for free, but I still feel like someone owes me. - Vince Mancini, Film Drunk

Between this and the “Drive was not the sequel to Fast Five I was promised!” lawsuit, this feels like a real moment for theater oafs. Now I wish we’d all asked for our money back after seeing Thor, since we were promised a movie and got a commercial for another movie. Wait, that argument works for every Hollywood movie! We’ve beaten the system, gang. - Darren Franich, PopWatch (Entertainment Weekly)

Call us crazy, but between this and the lawsuit over "Drive" (which one patron claimed was promoted as being like "Fast and Furious," but, in her opinion, wasn't) it seems like moviegoers may be taking their entertainment a wee bit too seriously. If this keeps up, we may all have to sign waivers before entering a theater. - Elizabeth Durand, Next Movie

Folks, just like the weather and traffic, know before you go.  With movie tickets being the price they are, why would you ever pay to see a movie you know little or nothing about? - Chris McKittrick, Movie Buzzers

To be fair to the individuals in question, Uggie's display at the Golden Globes did have an "animals talking with human voices" air about it. Really, anything is a disappointment when you show up expecting dogs in human clothes, rapping about their 9-to-5s. - Amanda Dobbins, Vulture

The short-changed patrons also griped about the reduced screen size, and rightfully so. I got up to complain three times about all the excess black on the sides, and as much as the candy counter workers sympathized with my plight, there was no way for them to fit the picture to the screen. Part of me wanted to walk out, but the story of a young star born to make it in pictures was so original that I was compelled to stay. Another thing worth recommending is a haunting swatch of music that comes in about two-thirds of the way through the picture that is unlike anything I've heard before. It made me dizzy! And Uggie the dog was adorable; much cuter than those parvo-ridden mutts in Hugo or the scene-stealing camera hound in Beginners. - Scott Marks, Big Screen (San Diego Reader)

We can imagine the future lawsuits this trend could produce. "I thought 'Easy A' was a guide to rocks-for-jocks college classes!" "I believed 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' was a rock concert movie filmed from the front row!" "I expected 'Friends With Benefits' to be an instructional dating film!" Or even: "War Horse" had too much "War," not enough "Horse!" - Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, MSNBC Entertainment

What's interesting here is that The Artist, on its way to a big fluffy best Picture Oscar, is about to open nationwide in the States, and if I were a betting man, I'd say we're about to get a tidal wave of these reports. There was a similar screech of brakes back when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon went wide, and audience members stormed out, claiming they "didn't pay to read a movie." I'll be curious to see if the near-certain blue-collar backlash does anything for or to the film's award prospects. - Phil Nobile, Jr., Badass Digest

It’s a good job people don’t stay beyond that first ten minutes, then, as they might get hit with the revelation that there’s no drawing or painting in it, too. There'll be hell to pay when they find out that Big Momma is played by a man. [...] As one Twitter commenter put it, “these people really don’t deserve nice films”. - Simon Brew, Den of Geek

Ahhh, it has to be within 10 minutes, that makes sense. No wonder the theater didn’t reimburse my Transformers 2 money after I complained that I didn’t know it was one of those films with no dogs not-humping Megan Fox’s leg then later a tiny robot not also humping Megan Fox’s leg. (Did the robot have a tiny robo-penis and sexual desire towards human females? The usher couldn’t explain this to me nor give me a refund. Last time I ever see a movie, let me tell you.) And don’t get me STARTED on that time I went to see Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie… - Dan Hopper, Best Week Ever

Since that initial ruckus, the theater has reportedly adopted the procedure of having the usher go around before every screening and ask patrons if they’re aware they’re about to see a silent film, and if not, to please refrain from glassing them. - Sean O'Neal, A.V. Club

There’s nothing more to be said: we’re speechless. - Glen Levy, Time

@Matthew_Lucas: Humanity is doomed.

@Ionaonie: I weep for humanity. THIS is why Hollywood doesn't like making clever films.

@SimPannu: the masses will never truly appreciate genius on-screen acting. It's more than just dialogue and bubble-gum scripts.

@mikerotman: And you thought Americans were bad when it came to taste in movies.

@JamesPMorrison: Some unaware movie goers demand a refund after finding out The Artist is a silent film. I think we can blame Fox News for not telling them.

@biggreenjelly: People who ask for a refund because "The Artist has no dialogue" don't deserve to go to the cinema. Puss in Boots is on next door.

@mattdegroot: To the people requesting refunds for not knowing 'The Artist' was a silent film: DIE.

@JohnLoony: Instead of demanding a refund, they should be charged extra for being stupid

@SClarkeWriter: Cinema-goers in Liverpool demanded a refund because The Artist is a silent film. Did they ask for a double refund because it's also in B&W?

@ScottNeal: Saw The Artist at same cinema + while I knew it was silent wish I'd asked for refund because it was so dull!

@Phil_on_Film: I'd like to work in a cinema just for the satisfaction of laughing in the face of idiots who ask for a refund because The Artist is silent.

@EDouglasWW: Someone's trying to sue cause they didn't know The Artist was a silent movie. I wonder if the judge will hear their case.

Conversation Twitter Poll: When is it Okay to Get a Refund at the Movies?

@vjmfilms: never

@jessecarp: never. when pleasantly surprised do they pay double?

@jennimiller76: if there's a technical difficulty or if there's a problem that the management won't deal with (unruly patrons, etc).

@jbdcampbell: Technical or crowd issues only. If you pay to see a film knowing absolutely nothing about its content, that's on you.

@NYCinemaClub: Only justified if there are technical difficulties that interfered with the overall quality of the screening. Just my opinion.

@zombeaner: including rude patrons

@eddie_strait: only if presentation is bad, crowd is loud/unruly, or an emergency forces you to leave.

@parisianfeline: Only when other people disrupt your cinema experience - like babies crying, people on their phones, people chatting, etc.

@mousterpiece: When the theater makes a mistake. A person not liking a movie for its genre or for being artsy (Tree of Life) doesn't qualify.

@PeterSHall: I think one should only ever be given a refund if the theatrical experience wasn't up to par. Buying a movie ticket isn't much different than buying a lottery ticket. If the ticket's not a winner, too bad, you gambled.

@misterpatches: If the technical aspects of the actual theater fail, customers deserve a refund. Content problems? Should have read reviews!

@gholson: Refunds should be given based on presentation issues or anytime someone leaves before the movie is over. I worked for Cinemark for years. They have an open refund policy. You can get one for ANY reason, even "that movie sucked."

@nixstix: I always wonder what motivates adults who go early, as in less than 20 minutes into a film. Their impatience is just childish.


Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.

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