Mike Goodridge confesses to being a cinema shusher who is offended by the loud popcorn crunchers and mobile phone talkers. That’s why exhibitors need to keep upping the ante to draw us into the theatrical experience.
It’s a given in this business that the theatrical experience is king. But for an irritable old film purist like myself, going to the movies is an outing littered with hurdles.
First, there’s the age-old problem of talking patrons. Whether it’s a persistent whisper or brazenly loud chatter, you apparently can’t avoid people talking during a film these days. Despite pleas for silence from most cinema circuits before the film begins, some ticket-buying customers apparently feel the need to comment to each other on the on-screen drama or maybe just the colour of a sofa with no consideration for the other members of the audience.
Same goes for the apparently limitless number of people rummaging through plastic bags or crunching popcorn with mouths agape as if only a full extension of the jaw will do to smash the popped corn into submission. That’s not to mention the gum-chewers and their slurpy mastication, the texting and email checking that goes on regardless of whether the lights are off or on and, heaven forbid, the odd occasion when someone actually takes a call. Then there are always the offenders sitting behind me who rest their knees on my seat and keep me rocking back and forth for hours as if I were on a virtual reality ride.
And did I mention the big-haired folk who walk in ten minutes late and sit in front of you, thereafter imposing their over-sized do onto the screen?
OK, you get the picture, I am an anxious moviegoer and one of these days, I have no doubt, my endless shushes, glares and scowls will earn me a black eye or worse.
And, yes, I should lighten up and enjoy the presence of my fellow humans; a little noise here and there from the rows surrounding me could be overlooked in favour of the emotion and excitement shared by us all while watching the movie.
But where I do get self-righteously shirty is when the offering itself is substandard. Like the fact that Green Zone was out of focus at the central London cinema in which I saw it or that Iron Man 2 started 20 minutes late at another with no explanation from staff as to why. In that same Iron Man 2 show, doors were left wide open, flooding light into the auditorium.
I am loathe to single out the circuits responsible because obviously there are hitches along the way in every cinema, but when the customer outlay is in excess of £12 in central London – that’s $18, stupendously expensive in US terms – it makes me think twice about going back.
Why not wait until I see the film on a long-haul flight, or even better order it up on my smart new Samsung 40 inch LED television? And let’s face it, DVD prices are coming down fast these days. If it wasn’t that I like to see most films out there for my job, there are certainly some films I would wait four months for. Or if I hadn’t been to see Alice In Wonderland in 3D IMAX, three months. On the subject of 3D, Samsung’s 3D television offers a pretty good image, by the way.
This is not meant as an exhibitor-bashing comment piece. It’s just a gentle reminder that the pressure is on cinema-owners to deliver the best possible experience to punters, especially as the prices are being raised for premium add-ons like VIP seating or 3D.
For an anally retentive film-bore like myself, the prospect of watching movies in the calm of my own home, on a wide-screen TV and with no distractions is an increasingly attractive one.
So when distributors – as perhaps is inevitable – start eating into the theatrical window with premium VOD offerings of their new movies, maybe I will pay $30 instead of $18 for the privilege. I can imagine families and older couples paying as much as $50 or more if it means avoiding the hassle and additional cost of an outing to the local multiplex. Upscale audiences are already enjoying day-and-date VOD releases of arthouse titles in many countries.
There’s still nothing to beat theatrical movie-going – being out-of-home, the darkness, the laughter, the tears - but exhibitors have to keep renewing every aspect of the experience and upping the stakes. There is a lot for them to lose.