When Did You Last See A Movie?
I asked a friend this the other day and he admitted that the last film he saw on the big screen was ‘Earthquake’ in Sensurround. Now you’ll have to admit that this is a fairly radical answer, and I wondered if that awful film put him off for life, but no, he said he simply preferred to watch films at home. So who goes to the cinema?
The equation is simple and unchanging; children, teens, adults to 23, seniors. Everyone else is consumed by work. Hence the rise of TV box set bingeing for the on-the-move workforce. I go to the movies at least once a week in winter, less in summer, but this is largely dictated by the fact that I’m a member of BAFTA and live within walking distance of Piccadilly, where the academy screen is based. That said, I still go regularly to civilian cinema, especially now that imaginatively programmed repertory houses have made a comeback in London.
But does the cinema experience still matter? I’m quite happy watching some films on my phone because the condensed bit-rate sharpens the image and makes subtitled films perfectly enjoyable. I see world cinema on a 5-1 ratio to Hollywood films, and as they’re rarely about blowing things up they can easily be watched on a small screen.
But this year several films have come along that have needed big screens. Ridley Scott’s excellent ‘The Martian’ was one, the superb ‘Timbuktu’ was another, ‘The Walk’ is in 3D and Imax, and – on a much lower scale of interest for me – Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’ is shot in Panavision 70, a defunct format that simply doesn’t translate to small screens.
To understand the cinema economy we’ve long used the analogy of a train; the engine = theatrical release, the carriages = streaming, rental, TV PPV and purchase. Every few years studios try to make cinema unique again with ‘value added’ bonuses, from Dolby, 3D, and upmarket wide-seat screens, going back to the aforementioned Sensurround.
Right now the upscale higher-price movie houses are in ascendence, while the worst way to see a film is probably the Vue chain, aimed at less discriminating crowds. Cinema is doing well because it offers comparative value. When you only get small change from a tenner for coffee and a sandwich (thanks, Pret) cinema suddenly seems reasonably priced. In terms of entertainment value for money, books and films currently lead the pack, but the cycle will reach a natural end and it will start all over again – as it always has done.
If I had to make one argument for seeing films on a big screen, it would be that it concentrates the attention – it’s all to easily to watch in snippets when you’re on the go, and dissipate the uniqueness of film.