Thursday, 12 June 2008

The Cinema Experience

I remember that when I was a young boy, going to the cinema was an exhilarating experience. TV in those days was a black-and-white affair with one Maltese station and a handful of Italian ones. Video recorders had still not made their début. Going to the cinema was a family treat. We could see feature films in full colour and in much better clarity than the grainy TV we had at home.

Fast forward to the present day and the home TV situation has improved dramatically. We've got stereo colour TVs at an entry level, and if you really like your home entertainment you can get flat TVs with crisp pictures, surround sound systems and even home projectors so you can enjoy the images in a large format. DVDs and a large number of video rental stores provide your choice of movie, at a time of your convenience, with all the comforts of your home. Oh, and microwave popcorn of course.

Yet compared to all these impressive changes that have taken place in the home entertainment field, cinemas have barely moved ahead for all these years. Probably the biggest improvements locally have been the cleanliness of the venue and banning smoking indoors. That's all? In over 30 years? Cinema owners as well as the production companies are complaining about the constantly dropping sales from cinemas, blaming it on everything and everyone but themselves. When was the last bit of really impressive innovation taking place in a cinema? Where has the cinema experience gone? Where are the queues of people standing in actual awe of what they are about to experience?

Going to a cinema, especially for a family, is an expensive undertaking. First one has to travel to the cinema and hopefully park somewhere reasonably near to the theatre. Then, apart from the cost of the tickets themselves, one has to buy drinks and snacks from the exorbitantly-priced "bar" - which only sells salty, thirst-provoking snacks or sweets. Once inside, one often has to deal with the rest of the audience, and there are few things as annoying as having someone running a continuous commentary on the film to a companion just behind your right ear. Except perhaps trying to catch the actors' words through the rustling crisp packets, ringing mobile phones, and people getting up to take a leak or coming in after the movie has started. Why would anyone want to pay through the nose for that?

If the cinema is to remain a profitable business, new ways need to be found to once again make the cinema experience something to look forward to. There have been a few attempts to do this, like 3D films, but these tend to be relatively short, documentary-style films. When will we be able to see something like the Lord of the Rings in full 3D with shaking ground, or projections on the front, side and above to fully immerse oneself in the experience? Or maybe some new-fangled environmental cinema where you can actually feel the heat of the desert sun or the cold of the Antarctic tundra. Now that would be something to look forward to. If cinemas do not try to recapture the experience that they lost, they are a dying breed.

1 comment:

yaheilui said...

Obviously one improvement would be bringing back ushers - remember what those are? - to tell people to be quiet and turn off cell phones, etc. And snack prices should be lower. But that would cut back on profits. I'm in the US where the cinemas also have huge prices for snacks, and there is barely any supervision of the audience.