What does “wide release” mean, anyway?: A Rant

So I really want to see Children of Men. It was listed online as going into wide release this weekend, and I almost squealed. It’s got Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, a nice, dark future storyline, and it’s based on a book by P.D. James — in other words, it showed every sign of being an excellent, intelligent sort of film. I immediately started making plans to go see it.
Except I can’t.
“Wide release” generally means that a movie is playing within five miles of my house. A week ago, I would have said always instead of generally, but now my optimism has been cruelly dashed. I don’t live in a major metropolitan area, but I don’t live in Upper Nowheresville, either.
I started doing more research. In a few places, it was still listed as being in limited release, but most agreed that it was, in fact, in wide release. So why wasn’t it playing any nearer than Chicago? Chicago is at least a three and a half hour drive under optimum conditions, and conditions are never optimum. I vaguely started calculating gas costs, but that was just too depressing.
Then I looked up the definition of wide release.

A nice still picture from Children of Men to look at longingly

Wikipedia (very cool site, go try it if you haven’t already) informed me that “wide release” meant only that a film was showing on at least 600 screens nationwide. Another source claimed 650 was a better number, while others implied that 1000 was the minimum for a true wide release. Apparently even the movie industry itself isn’t quite sure of its terms.
But that still didn’t seem right. Even at the minimum six hundred screens, that was twelve screens per state. Obviously California and New York are going to be greedy and claim more than that for themselves, but places like New Mexico and Montana wouldn’t use up all twelve of theirs, would they? Or am I just being unfair to New Mexico and Montana?
Finally I looked at imdb.com, wondering its opinion on wide release. I couldn’t find that, but I did find a handy, if undetailed, map of all the cities where Children of Men is currently playing in the U.S. as of 29 December 2006. All eleven of them.
Wait, eleven?
There’s one somewhere in Washington state, two in San Francisco, and two in L.A. One is the listing I found for Chicago, one is somewhere in Texas (Dallas?), and one looks to be in Atlanta. The other three are scattered along the eastern seaboard at regular intervals — maybe Washington, DC, Boston, and New York City?
Suddenly I feel very fortunate to have to drive only three and a half hours. But if this is wide release, than each of those eleven cities is, at a minimum, showing the film on fifty-four and a half screens. I’m pretty sure even L.A. isn’t that greedy.
This is where I give up. Something’s wrong somewhere, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll just start working up the courage to check again next Friday. In the meantime, I’ll go see Perfume, even though I suspect that one isn’t nearly as good.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
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*contemplates Black Christmas*