I’m writing this column from Port Angeles, Washington. This is where my wife grew up, and we make the 15-hour drive every summer to visit her parents up here in the Pacific Northwest.
By any standard, 15 hours is a long time. Fifteen hours stuffed in a car with five children and a dog, however, feels considerably longer. It’s like eternity, only not as brief.
The only thing that makes it bearable is our Suburban’s built-in DVD player. You end up measuring the drive not in hours, but in movies.
When are we going to stop for dinner?
Finish “Tangled” and we’ll talk.
Are we there yet?
No, but we will be by the time “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” is over.
And so on. The movies put a boundary on the experience that makes it almost bearable.
You also discover something that you don’t consider when you’re watching a movie, and that is that some movies are a whole lot more fun to listen to than others. Being the responsible parent that I am, I’m in the driver’s seat for most of the time, so I never actually see any of these flicks as they’re showing on a tiny 12-inch screen that partially obscures the view from my rearview mirror.
But I hear them. Boy, do I hear them.
This isn’t a problem when we’re talking about Disney movies, especially musicals. I’m particularly fond of Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog,” which has wonderful songs and a host of delightful characters. It stands out in my memory because it occurs to me every time it gets played on our road trips that I’ve never actually sat down and watched this movie.
But just like the dads who recently made a YouTube video about Disney movies in the car, I’ve heard it. So, you know, I hear it’s good.
The action flicks aren’t nearly as easy on the ears. One year, we decided to screen all three of the extended editions of "The Lord of the Rings" movies, which are three of my favorite films of all time. The problem is that big chunks of these films involve battle sequences that are really long and really, really loud. So you hear swords clash and people grunt and scream and whatever else, but you have no idea what’s going on most of the time. With visuals, these movies are grand-scale epics that capture the imagination. Without visuals, they’re just noise.
Comedies are almost as good as musicals, and, for some reason, Will Ferrell comedies work the best. “Megamind” and “Kicking and Screaming” have been played on that DVD player so many times that they’ve been worn down to nothing, and we had to buy a new copy of “Elf,” which we watch all year-round. This year “The Lego Movie” entered the rotation, and it fits in quite well. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about Ferrell’s stuff that translates very well to an audio-only presentation.
I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not, but it is what it is.
As I consider this phenomenon, I hark back to my own misspent youth, when I travelled in a station wagon with my brother and four sisters and absolutely no DVD player in sight. Some people will tell you that the lack of electronic entertainment actually brought families together because we had to talk to each other and get to know one another as a family.
People who say that are idiots. You don’t have to listen to them — at least, not as long as you have another DVD at the ready.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.