Feature: Cinema: Is the end nigh?


Two of the latest films I have seen at the cinema have been Star Wars: The Force Awakens and The Danish Girl.  These should have been fantastic experiences as these are the films that cinema is made for.  The grand spectacle that is Star Wars should be seen on the biggest screen possible with the best sound system and who wouldn’t want to see the beautiful cinematography of Danny Cohen on the largest screen available after his work on The King’s Speech and Les Misérables?  Yet after both screenings I had steam coming out of my ears as I wished that I hadn’t bothered wasting my time and money on such poor experiences.  What makes this worse is that I saw both in entirely different cinemas!

Why do I hear you ask?  Well, I saw Star Wars in an art house cinema, and I sat one chair away from a man who talked all the way through the film to his partner.  Someone who thought it was okay to speak louder during the action parts (maybe he thought he was being considerate when he whispered during the quieter parts…).  When watching The Danish Girl at my local cinema chain I sat in front of two woman, the first of which dropped something very heavy that sounded suspiciously “splashy”, causing a slight panic to move my man-bag as the cinema was on a decline towards the screen.  The second of which decided to blurt out the ending of the film to her friend when we were around three-quarters of the way through, causing a very uncomfortable moment when I thought my fiancée was going to deck her!

So, both of these weren’t the best of trips to the cinema.  I don’t think I’m alone when I admit this, but I always feel a little trepidation in the cinema before the film starts.  For me, the unwritten rule is that you can talk all the way through the confectionary and car adverts but when the film trailers start then silence should fall.  If someone is talking through these I give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that they hush when the title card of the film is displayed (the one from the BBFC telling us the title, certificate, etc).  If they are still talking through this and into the studio logos of the film then my heart sinks.

In both the screenings of Star Wars and The Danish Girl there were no ushers to be found to input a little order into proceedings.  This isn’t their fault, as in a day and age where the customer is always right (which is wrong), a polite word from an usher asking someone to keep the noise down will most likely end up in that usher being complained about and/or the cinema being lambasted on social media.  You may think this is an over-reaction, but if someone is rude enough to think they have the right to talk all the way through a film and spoil it for others then they will find it even easier to make a song-and-dance about how they have been “mistreated” by the cinema when their behaviour is challenged by a member of their staff.  If they complain, they may get free tickets out of the cinema, so why shouldn’t they?

Depressing, isn’t it?

It’s not just rude audience members that are killing the cinema experience.  The theatres are equally to blame as well.  They should be firmer with people disrupting a screening but they should also be doing more to get bums on seats.  The screening I attended for The Danish Girl was at a famous multi-plex, it was starting at 7:30pm, which I would say is a popular time for this to be seen (ie, it wasn’t late at night or early in the morning), and we were crammed into the smallest screen they had and the cinema suffered from very distracting noise-bleed from the other screenings.  On top of the disruption from the two inconsiderate ladies behind us, I didn’t think this was worth the trip to the flicks at all.  I would expect this type of experience from seeing a film at a mate’s house for free but to pay for this privilege from a cinema chain is surely not acceptable.

Whilst we’re on the subject of paying for tickets, the cost of an adult ticket is extortionate, with my local multi-plex charging just under £10.00 for a standard 2D showing with cinema-goers in London paying even more!  For a family of four plus the mortgage needed to purchase drinks and snacks from the foyer a trip to the cinema starts to become a considered purchase.  Okay, there are 2-4-1 tickets on certain days of the week if you buy insurance through a rodent, and membership cards that you pay for via Direct Debit that work out cheaper if you go to the cinema three times or more a month, but this isn’t enough.  Why pay the full price for a ticket or purchase 2-4-1 tickets or sign up for membership when you can wait a few months or so for the film to come out to rent through your TV box, where you can sit in the comfort of your own home and enjoy the film?  You can pause it when you want and invite as many people as you can fit in your living room to watch for, at most, £5.00?  Why even do this when you can ask that friend you know to ask their “friend” who can get DVDs for £1.00 each that are good enough quality to watch and who can even get films that are yet to be released in the UK yet?  As you can imagine, I abhor these bootleggers selling knock off films that could kill an industry I love so much, but with rising ticket prices giving you poor return for your money it’s no wonder piracy is still rife.

The answer?  I’m not so sure there is one.  Not one that is feasible anyway.  Cinemas can reduce ticket and refreshment prices and employ staff with the purpose and power to instil order into a screening, and they can also spend money on improving the quality of their cinemas and make it a much more pleasurable experience, but unless piracy is clamped down upon with harsher penalties for those distributing these movies then it will continue to flourish.  The likes of Star Wars and the Marvel films will always do well at the box office as people will choose to experience these movies on the big screen to get the most of the spectacle that you come to expect.  Yet Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, made by arguably one of the most successful and visionary directors of modern times and a film that was a visual and audible delight that was best experienced on an IMAX with surround sound, was the most pirated film in 2014 with 46 million illegal downloads.  It made a huge profit regardless but it just goes to show that the minority that are watching pirated movies are on the increase, even when it comes to the blockbusters that are designed to be seen at the pictures and not on someone’s iPhone.  If the appeal of the cinema is not going to lure audiences in for major releases, then the independent films don’t stand a chance.  It’s such a shame as this is where I find the true creatives of the industry, but if no one is seeing their films then studios will not back them with the support and finance that they need. 

Maybe multiple format release is the answer, where the films are available to buy, rent or see in the cinema on the same day.  Whilst this might be more profitable for the film industry I think that it would be the final nail in the coffin for cinema, as even though I enjoy the likes of Star Wars on the big screen I would rather have paid the price of the cinema ticket and watched it at home with no disruptions.  The cost of this though may still turn people to piracy, as the last example I can remember of a multiple format release was Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, Lost River, and to rent this for two days through the TV box was £7.99!

Crikey, this is bleak…

…anyway, answers on how to save cinema, and… er… now the film industry, on a postcard to Film Fluff.


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