Cinemas Open Soon, But Will You Be Going Back?
Soon, cinemas will reopen across the UK. When it comes to the movies, ‘there’s no place like home’.
Of course, home isn’t a place; it’s a feeling, whether it be the huddled majesty of the big screen or the intimate familiarity of your living room TV, or even the twilight glow of your laptop in bed. Gone are the sacred trips to Blockbuster – today, you have so much ‘content’ at your behest anywhere, anytime, be it on-demand rentals, streaming or, hush-hush, piracy.
As a film critic, journalist and cinephile, picture house-obsessed from my first trip to see Stuart Little as an infant, there’s nothing like the power of the movie theatre. The oomph of the sound, being drenched in the atmosphere, witnessing its waves hit the crowd, the darkness, the light, the fear, the tears, the magic; I crave it every single day. Really, I’ve been homesick for months.
On May 17, as the government further loosens COVID-19 restrictions, moviegoers can finally return to cinemas. Two weeks out, we asked our Twitter followers if they were excited to go back… and the response wasn’t exactly eager, per se. Only 47.6% voted yes, while 52.4% were content with their sofa.
I’ll be honest: the results surprised me. Chalk it up to naivety or bias, but with somewhat ‘ordinary life’ about to make a comeback with indoor hospitality and leisure, why wouldn’t people look forward to piling into cinemas again, just as they would with pubs or restaurants? It’s certainly not a matter of cleanliness – during their brief return in summer, they were some of the most hygienic places available.
Replying to the poll, David Wicks wrote, ‘Yeah I can’t wait to get back to hear tw*ts having conversations during the film, the constant sound of packets rustling and the filthy noise of people chomping and clacking on their overpriced snacks.’
Less harshly, Amanda Jane gave her own reason for not rejoicing over theatres: ‘I had to give up going to cinema when my neck pain got so bad that I couldn’t cope with cinema seats, there is stuff I miss about going but a lot I don’t.’
These reasons are entirely fair. While navigating the twists, turns and wonders of a movie with an audience feels social, if only spiritually, some can’t keep their mouths shut. For the more irritable among us, it’s understandable why you’d rather watch at home with your own rules, food that doesn’t cost a small fortune, and no smacking lips and crisp-crunching bouncing off your ears.
Actual physical comfort is an issue too. As someone who’s suffered many a numb butt and/or sore back from a dodgy cinema seat, as well as battling overpowered aircon and screens doubling as an ovens, opting for the personal viewing set-up makes sense.
But it’s not really about that, is it? Sure, for the latest episode of Gogglebox, you want to be chilling in the house with snacks and conversation in tow. However, movies can and should be viewed in the theatre environment; not just for your personal enjoyment, but to maximise the film’s impact on the world at large.
When I was 15, I went to see The Woman in Black with some friends. The screening was packed to the brim with teenagers (some even sneakily perched on the stairs). The tension was palpable from the off, and every jump scare landed, securing deafening, hysterical, hilarious screams. We were leaping out of our seats like Scooby Doo onto Shaggy. It’s a memory I cherish.
When Split arrived in cinemas, I eagerly booked a ticket for opening night. James McAvoy’s performance stunned the crowd, and as a fan of M. Night Shyamalan, I was having a great time – then came Bruce Willis’s reveal at the end. I nearly wept with joy, grinning ear-to-ear among fellow fans of Unbreakable who gasped in disbelief, relishing every second of euphoria from James Newton Howard’s resurrected score. It’s a memory I cherish.
On my girlfriend and I’s one-year anniversary, I – rather riskily – organised a classy night at the Everyman Cinema, with drinks and snacks ordered to our seats… to see Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built. It was a selfish choice (it was a one-night limited showing), and in any other environment, I’m sure it would have been a disaster. But with phones tucked away and the communal luxury, we both had a blast. She’s clearly the one. It’s a memory I cherish.
Then, the audience reaction to beat them all: the entire third act of Avengers: Endgame. I don’t feel it’s an exaggeration to say this: it’s the best thing I’ve ever seen in a cinema, and I don’t think it’ll ever be topped. Cap catching Thor’s hammer, the opening portals, ‘Avengers… assemble!’ – pure unadulterated ecstasy. It’s a memory I cherish.
Going to the cinema isn’t just about the movie. It’s an event for uneventful lives, an excuse to be immersed in complete darkness for two hours and be swept off our feet.
Andrew Petrie, a sports commentator and journalist, wrote in response to the poll, ‘I can’t wait to go back! When I went to see The Invisible Man last year, it was nice to forget about the pandemic for two hours and just enjoy the darkness, the screen, and even the trailers! Oh yeah, the trailers. I love the trailers.’
Jordan King, a freelance film writer, also replied, ‘The way I see it, you can watch a film at home, and you can enjoy it well enough there, but you truly experience films at the cinema. There’s nothing like the lights going down, projector switching on, and knowing that for the next couple of hours you’re somewhere else entirely.’
We can have it both ways. Over in the US, HBO Max has led to a dual-release strategy for Warner Bros., with films hitting screens big and small at the same time. In the UK, similar arrangements are likely to take place as cinemas get going again, if just a matter of financial security for studios (such as Black Widow dropping in cinemas and Disney+ Premier Access).
James Mason, a fellow film buff, wrote, ‘A film on the big screen is good though also like the convenience of watching at home. Simultaneous releasing all the way. We eat at home and at restaurants, let’s make that the norm for movies. Especially if cinemas can get a cut of the money.’
On May 17, we’ll have a number of films waiting for us: Oscar-winners like Nomadland and Sound of Metal, as well as Spiral, Those Who Wish Me Dead, The Unholy, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway and Some Kind of Heaven.
I’m already giddy at the prospect of hearing Samuel L. Jackson say, ‘Do you wanna play games, motherf*cker?’ shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers on opening night. Viva la Cinema Paradiso.
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