July 25th, 2011, 8:35 am

Captain America: The Drive-In Experience

Well, I'm back from my vacation in Ohio. One of the things I always notice when driving into Ohio is the drive-in theaters - or what's the left of them, which usually isn't more than a run-down screen in the middle of a cornfield. While enjoying some quality time with my father, I suggested we see "Captain America" on one of the last active drive-in theaters in the area, at Van Del's Drive-In Theater.

The drive-in has changed a little since the days of "American Graffiti" and "Jaws". In the past, moviegoers pulled up to a small steel post holding a wired speaker, which they pulled into their car to hear the movie's sound. Now, audience members simply pull up to the screen and tune into a specific FM radio station to hear the sounds of the flick playing on the outdoor screen.

This development allows a fair amount of customization for savvy audience members. The best part of the evening came when a pick-up truck pulled up next to us. I watched in amazement as a couple of teenagers busted out huge speakers and a subwoofer, all hooked up to the truck's sound system. They respectfully kept the volume down, but there was still sufficient audio to blanket the entire row with quality surround sound. We didn't have to turn on our car at all - we just sat in picnic chairs and watched the whole movie outside.

Unfortunately, there's one relatively recent trend the drive-in movie theater couldn't have foreseen - the rise of mid and large-size SUV's. Some moviegoers prefer to watch the movie from the back of their SUV's, and when they do, the uplifted hatch of their Dodge Durango blocks a fair part of the screen. As a result, we couldn't watch the movie from our small Toyota Camry if we wanted to - not without missing a large chunk of Captain America's lower right hand corner. It's a good thing we were right next to the gents in the pick-up truck - otherwise we couldn't have seen and heard the movie at the same time.

The bottom line is that, because of these developments, the drive-in has ultimately lost its most endearing quality: intimacy. With SUV hatches blocking the screen, you're left with no choice but watch the movie outside, and when you do, you are bombarded by all manner of distractions, ranging from screaming kids to cars passing on the nearby highway. With the ample charm of rustic small town flavor, the Van Dels Drive-In Theater does its best to make up for this, with cotton candy vendors, raffle ticket contests and even adorable children handing you free movie posters on your way in. Ultimately, though, the drive-in just isn't a viable option for any new movie you actually want to see.

This would usually be the part where I reviewed "Captain America", but as you can guess, I didn't exactly see it in optimal settings. From what I could see, though, "Captain America" is what "GI Joe: Rise of Cobra" should have been, with a far more seamless transition from real world history to pulpy sci-fi. Buoyed by a strong cast, "Wolf Man" and "Rocketeer" director Joe Johnston is right at home in a world of super-soldiers and ray guns. If I have one minor complaint, it's that the movie transitions better into the upcoming "Avengers" than its chronological successor "Iron Man", which first kicked off the Marvel cinema event.

Make no mistake: I'm glad I saw this Marvel comic pulp in a drive-in theater. But I can't really recommend drive-in theaters for watching a movie where you hang on every word, at least not when those words are interrupted by passing cars and the actors blocked by the tops of SUV's. The drive-in's will always have a special place at the heart of nostalgia, and that's why the drive-in theater is probably best suited for classic movies you've already seen. For this summer's blockbusters, however, you're better off trading the drive-in for the parking lot of your local multiplex.

(That's it for this week's rant. Tune in next Wednesday for a new Blue Yonder!)

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