The multiplex is dying but it’s not all bad news
The multiplex may be dying but I’m going to tell you why that isn’t a bad thing.
On the Outside looking in
“A few films are starting soon, did you have any preferences?”
“OK, I’ll tell you the next films are coming up. There’s a superhero film, an indie drama and a rom-com.”
“What about Austin Powers 4?”
“That doesn’t exist.”
“I heard they made it.”
“If they did our cinema isn’t showing it”.
“Oh, doesn’t matter then.”
I’ve worked in a multiplex for almost a decade, and if trends continue as they have been, I’m not going to last another ten.
First, let me make my bias’ clear, I love the cinema. Not just movies but the act of leaving the house. They go with people you know to sit in the dark with other strangers and look at images projected onto a screen. If the filmmakers have done their job correctly, then we all feel an emotion.
There is a nostalgia attached to the experience. I remember the Curzon, my local cinema (not a multiplex). I remember going to see Independence Day, feeling like a rebel because I wasn’t twelve yet.
The point I’m trying to make is that I love movies. The cinema and sitting in the dark with strangers watching people’s faces blown up by the size of houses. It is frustrating to see the direction cinema is headed. There are two kinds of films that are available at the multiplex. You have the issue film awards fodder. There is the big-budget invincible people punching each other for three hours.
A defence for the multiplex
There should be some sympathy for the multiplex. The multiplex has had to bend over backwards for the distributor and the customer. There was when Disney ransomed Star Wars for theatre space. Odeon was going to boycott the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland over the home release market. There was also the 3D mess where everything had to be 3D, and then a few months later everyone was sick of 3D. Despicable Me is notable for being marking the beginning of the end for 3D as it’s 2D sales outsold it’s 3D.
More recently we had the film vs digital argument revived over the summer with Dunkirk. The cinema I work in holding onto one film projector, so we were able to give customers a choice between the two. Honestly, it’s not a great idea to provide customers with more choice. Customers don’t care, and they want things simplified. As a cinema worker, the best way is to give them the best quality of sound and picture possible.
There is a chance that cinema has always been two films. I’m starting to notice but there used to be degrees of difference between the two. The middle ground of film is disappearing. These films still get a release in the theatres. More rarely, the last notable example being The Nice Guys. That is what I want to see on the big screen, a bit of banter, boobs and some grounded action.
The multiplex is at war with technology. We have so many ways of taking in movies and so many more films being made it’s impossible to take them all.
The elephants in the room
There is something important to address when it comes to modern cinema that is ruining the experience; other people. The multiplex has transformed into an extension of people’s front rooms. In a means to pack in as many people as possible, there is no code of conduct for the customer. Do what you want, make yourself at home, use your phone, bring in the stinkiest food you can find and talk as loudly as possible to the person you’re with, absolutely fine.
The multiplex itself must bear some responsibility for this. The ticket is checked, and we hope not to see you for at least another two hours, no one has ever come out midway through a film to say that things are going great. Cinema ushers can’t enforce any rules because there are none of the customers. Customers can be asked to keep it down or leave, but the power rests with the disruptive customer and how open they are to peer pressure.
The slow death of the multiplex
The multiplex is dying a slow death; prices rise attendance is down. As disheartened as the circumstance is it is for the best. The multiplex is for people who don’t care about film. This sounds like a contradiction in terms, but there is a logic at work.
Seeing the film on the opening weekend is one of the great cons that the industry has performed on the audience. The argument has more clearly shifted from is does the film work to how many people were we able to trick into seeing it before word gets out that the film is terrible.
The subjective experience of enjoying a series of images edited together to elicit an emotion is comodofied. from us has turned into how many zeros are we looking at on Monday morning.
The people that show up on a Friday night for the showing of Flying Man 2: Punch Harder are not always die-hard fans. They are more that they are easily manipulated by the marketing machine.
The multiplex only cares about wanting your money from the concession stand. That’s why cinemas will try to fob you off with tickets if you are less than satisfied with the experience.
Cinema can look back.
The most pleasurable experience I had this year was when the cinema I worked at put on the 1980 Blade Runner. The cinema screen was packed out, and during the show there was silence. These were people who wanted to be there. There was respect for one another and a mutual degree of understanding.
One of the biggest draws for our cinema was Hocus Pocus over the Halloween weekend. We got two thousand people in over that period whereas Star Wars: The Last Jedi got in…
There is over a hundred years of film history, so many classics from years ago. The multiplex could do with taking a look back every once in a while. Filmmakers are so cineliterate.