Here's an image to live by:

One thousand particles of dust, spinning and swirling in that focused beam of light; a million millimeter journey from script to screen and back again. The soft, near-gone shudder of so many frames per second, clicking by in that old familiar rhythm. Small and dark "that dim dark" story after story flickering to life across a white canvas screen. The butter smell of popcorn. The sweet sugar scent of candy. The squeak of a seat pushed back too far.

The joy of a thing is often in its imperfections, in the small, background details that the mind files needlessly away, deep in the back of our subconscious satisfactions. Without the details, it's a broad-stroke world "all facts, no fiction" no fortune, no fun.

Which all begs the question:

When did the movies become one-stop shopping?

Why can I now spend a full day at my local Cineplex? Eat dinner there? Buy souvenirs there? Ride a ride there? Feed my burning arcade addiction there? Spend an entire paycheck there?

You want a quote? Here's a quote:

The economy of movie-going is the next great terrorist attack.

When every cave is scoured, every spider-hole searched, we'll flush out Osama and the president of Lowes. And at the very end, when all the ashes settle, you'll see the dust-covered back of a Regal exec running away into the shadows.

Figure this:

In a major city, for a family of four, an average day at the movies rounds out to roughly $100.

And then this:

The average yearly income of a one-earner family, before taxes, floats somewhere around forty-thousand dollars per year. Figure that on weekly basis and the cost of taking your spouse and two children to the movies just set you back over ten percent of your weekly paycheck. And this is only if you're lucky enough to be an average-earning family. If you and your loved ones live on a relatively low income, you might just have to wait a few months and catch that flick on video.

And the irony here is this:

That way, way back in the Way-Back-When, the movies used to be an accessible safe-haven, free from class, cost and concern open to dreaming, where the rich could relax and the poor could pretend. Theaters in the Way-Back-When were lush and lavish and uniformly cheap, a tangible treat that virtually eliminated the economy of it all. In the darkness of a theater like the Ziegfeld, who you were or what you did meant little in comparison to the story playing out on-screen. In the darkness of such a place, you were ever-so anonymous. And only the hero had a name.

And now:

Theme parks. 32 theaters. Football-field stadiums with mini-mansion screens. Concessions like restaurants breakfast, lunch and dinner. Automated everything and endless arcades. Shopping centers and rides. Etc, etc, etc...

Lush, lavish and uniformly outrageous.

Ten-dollar admissions and the extinction of the matinee. Six bucks for popcorn and the same of a soda.

And didn't this used to be about something? Didn't this used to be about the movies? Didn't we come for better reasons than this?

Not to play, not to eat, not shop. But to see a piece of pleasure on so many rolling reels. With comfortable seats, good sound, and cost-effective candy.

When did we ask for this? We didn't.

How many worthwhile films are most people missing? Just how many possible movie-goers have we priced out of the game?

Years ago, when the price of a New York ticket gunned up to ten dollars, I asked the manager of my local Lowes for an explanation. He said that low turn-out and rising maintenance costs forced the ticket price north of nine. And for awhile, I bought that "stupidly bought that" but now I want to sell it all back.

These days, theaters are posting record grosses with record attendance, all while prices rise with the size of the Cineplex. Which leaves only the explanation that size equals sum and that everything else is a finely-dressed lie. And when the only excuse left for the height of the price is the size of the screen, it's time to start asking questions. Like this one:

What can we live without?

Stadium seating and surround-sound. That's all I ask. Nothing more, nothing less.

So what about you? What can you live without? Ask yourself this: What exists at the very heart of the movie-going experience? What are its perfect imperfections? What details make the magic?

And when you're done asking yourself, start asking the theaters. Start skimming the excess from the bottom up. Because prices are one plane that never comes down. And we "the cash-cow cinephiles" deserve better.