No frills film? Or a 3D, widescreen, snacks-a-plenty cinema experience?


“We’re going to miss it,” a smaller and less less frizzy-haired me whinged at (what I saw as) my bumbling, sloth-like family.  Call me Henry Hassle, but after a week of learning my ABC’s and 123′s, I was living for the weekend!

It was time for Saturday Morning Pictures.

Oh yes.  This was what cinema was all about for my generation.  A snack-pack on arrival, a pre-film entertainer (balloon animals were my thing) and the latest Disney creation; who needed the summer holidays?  Saturday morning was what it was all about and it came but once a week.

As I sat there with my inflated poodle (I wished I had asked for a parrot) munching on my popcorn (salted; sweet was for pansies) and deciding whether or not I had time for a last wee, the lights dimmed.  I looked smugly at my Father and two younger siblings.  Thanks to my whining, we wouldn’t miss a thing.

Twenty minutes later and the film had still not started.  Pet peeve to some; winner to a footloose-and-fancy-free child.  In twenty minutes I had pencilled in a potential children’s film to take over every Saturday morning from then until doomsday, making me the busiest six-year-old in the South East.  However, from the way in which Pops was jigging his leg, it seemed he was thinking about arriving later then the film “start” time in future.

Adverts: Twenty minutes to get in the zone or a waste of time to make us moan?

But what is the dealio with the start time?  Do they expect all cool, film-watching gunslingers to be fashionably late and hence, give us a fake time to make sure we are punctual for the film’s beginning?  Call me a push-over (don’t even dare), but I accept the twenty minutes of pre-show clips as part of the cinema experience and yes, I admit it, kind of enjoy them.  Not on a Homer Simpson dribbling level, but almost.  So yes, I will arrive at the allotted time, dammit, and God help those who make me late!

And whilst my childish gimmicks were unnecessary (but oh so necessary) in my trips to the cinema and were not largely intrinsic to film viewing, I have never known cinema without the pre-show trailers. I see them as the starter souffle; a few delicious but unsubstantial mouthfuls to keep you occupied before the meaty, main course. Maybe it’s an English thing; we need a good warm up before we lunge.

I guess it’s different in China. A Beijing lawyer named Chen Xiaomei is actually in the process of suing a local cinema for “wasting her time” as she was not “warned” about the twenty minutes of adverts “prior to the screening”.  Now, I have never been a regular at a Chinese cinema, but either they don’t offer the same fluffy starter as Western cinemas, or Miss Xiaomei is a rookie of the flicks.  But hang about, even here in the UK, I can’t for the life of me remember having ever been warned about adverts.  And if Miss Xiaomei is suing for “emotional damages” after one twenty minute advert slot, then think how emotionally damaged I am.  Hello law suit.  And counselling.

Interesting enough, I don’t remember any French folk suing for emotional damages after viewing the Lumiere brothers’ L’Arrivee d’un Train en Gare de La Ciotat, not that I was there in 1896.  And I think it may be a wee bit more emotionally damaging to believe a train is coming out of the screen to GET YOU. No?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! Turn and face the strain of dragons flying in your face

But the times, they are a-changing and the cinema experience of my childhood (think the first release of Bambi.  Emotional) complete with the maroon, velvet curtain, gum-stained seats, sticky floors and tiny, sugar-paper tickets that quickly became moist in my excited palm, seems to have been shoved in the dusty trophy cabinet with the porcelain cat your Gran gave you.

But it is not only the environment that has changed. The Lumiere brothers may claim that they were attempting a 3D-type effect with the speeding train, but it is only recently that we have been faced with the broadening release of 3D films, which has arguably changed the cinema experience in the way we view the film and the effect it has on our noggins.  Prepare for an over-stimulated generation of short attention-spanned kids.

I do get rather excited though.  Whilst I do look back nostalgically at what once was, I hear myself cry “Tally-ho! Onward, Bessie!”  Where is cinema going to go next? Is 2D film going to be a thing of the past, becoming as old-fashioned as a humbug?  And will 3D glasses become the must-have accessory of the season?  Or are we going to become less impressed with what is on offer, constantly craving something bigger, faster, louder and more in-your-face when we look for our next film fix.

Characters comin’ atcha like Willy Wonka’s television chocolate!

I don’t wish to alarm you, but it looks to be already happening.  I thought we had reached breaking point when hotdogs and nachos were being offered alongside the “old-skool” popcorn-and-drink-combo-maltesers-if-your-lucky kind of deal, but in this new-age, it appears that film is slinking it’s way out of the screen, like a creature from the deep.

Were you having a joyous trip to Japan and happened to feel a bit peckish, you may find yourself being served sake by a waitress dressed in the style of Japanese animation, in a cosplay cafe.  Were you strolling down the Charing Cross road at midnight on the the eve of the latest Planet Of The Apes book release, you could have found yourself surrounded by mystical and magical beings, albeit very young ones.  Halloween lends itself to the interactive jaunt of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where ‘virgins’ as well as die hard fans dress up and gather for a sexy and sweary sing-a-long.

So what are we expecting from our cinema experience?  Things have come a long way from simply watching a film on a big telly.  This is film-watching with bells on. And the rest . And whilst Miss Xiaomei may feel she deserves compensation for her “emotionally damaging” experience of sitting through twenty minutes of trailers, perhaps she is looking for a purer kind of cinema experience, one without all the hidden extras. Give the lady a film to watch, I say! And a wooden stool to sit on. But heavens, if she thinks her experience was bad, I would like to see her after Avatar 3D (I haven’t been the same since) or sitting next to a fella in fishnets and lipstick, thrusting away to the Timewarp.

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