Films on the Big Box – a trip to the Cinema

The act of posting a brief film critique on a daily basis isn’t easy. It’s not a chore, but time is a factor. The ratio of titles I’ve seen previously to those I’m catching for the very first time is about 1:1, and many of the former are a case of blowing dust off the box before playing again. That means I [have to] watch at least a film per day, just to do the thing justice. This I often do alone, as Mini Mike believes there was no cinema before 1977 (Star Wars was apparently the invention of the motion picture) and Mrs Mike has her own interests. Besides, she laughed all the way through Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger; fair enough in many respects, but this is a serious business, god damn it!

A full-time job, family commitments, film viewing and writing eat up my days, and the unhappy upshot is that I rarely get to see the films other people post about. I try my best, and it’s especially frustrating because so many blogs I read elsewhere make their subjects sound fascinating. But, as an example, Pursued, the review of which was written up weeks ago with Colin’s usual panache at the excellent Riding the High Country, is still cued up and ready.

In the meantime, I used the last day of this welcomingly long Bank Holiday weekend to put in a rare trip to the pictures. I’ve been looking forward to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus for some time, not least because the visual flair of the auteur who happens to be from my neck of the woods warrants a viewing on the big screen. Unlike many, I didn’t go expecting an Alien prequel. Whilst Prometheus takes place in the same ‘world’ as Alien, it’s quite a different animal from the dirty, working claustrophobia of the Nostromo and tells a much more expansive story. It’s a brave move from Scott, who could no doubt have pumped out more of the same and entertained us, though I suspect it would be impossible to replicate what people really want – that visceral, sublime jolt of horror when John Hurt’s chest blows wide open.

Not that Prometheus isn’t scary. It is, on several levels. There’s the same unsettling sense of dread that built slowly in Alien, not to mention the element of well-intentioned characters being manipulated by forces unseen. The acting’s incredibly strong. Top marks go to Michael Fassbender, in the ‘Ian Holm’ role but given the time to invest his android character with an attempt to understand humanity, which has unexpected consequences. Sean Harris plays a sardonic, Mohican-sporting geologist, and it’s a measure of the cast’s calibre that such a strong performer takes on a supporting role.

But it’s Scott’s compositional talents that really shine in Prometheus. From the first, gorgeous sweeping shots of a world in development, the film is a feast for the eyes. I found myself comparing it with Avatar. Scott doesn’t need to toss in floating islands to get across the awe of exploring a new planet. Everything’s in the sense of scale, the perspective, the ship that looks tiny compared with the ancient alien settlement it’s exploring. It leaves James Cameron’s box office beater behind. This is an adult world, within the context of a grown-up film, and its respect for its audience really can’t be appreciated enough.

Getting, at last, to the point of this post. I got in to the film for free, thanks to my Odeon card, and could even stretch to a Premier seat, which is well worth the extra quid in aiding the spine of a middle-aged office worker. The theatre was around two-thirds full. No one talked during the film. My concentration wasn’t broken with the chime of texts received; neither did I catch the light of a phone in use. The slurping from coke tubs and crunch of popcorn was largely absent. The back of my chair was never kicked. There wasn’t a steady stream of toilet goers. It was that strangest of cinema visits – people going to see the film because they wanted to see the film.

I find it very sad that these instances are now rare indeed. Last month, we caught Avengers Assemble and I was sat next to a bloke who spent much of it glued to his phone, whilst his child, all of three years old, became increasingly agitated. My previous visit was taking Mini Mike to see the 3D version of The Phantom Menace. Incredibly, the good bits were still good in three dimensions; the boring bits were just as dull, but it was during the latter moments that kids got fed up and were allowed by their parents to tramp around the theatre. They walked down the steps, along the bottom of the screen and up the staircase on the other side, a process repeated ad nauseum until the pod race or Darth Maul’s appearances.

I appreciate that moaning about these things is kind of old hat. We’ve all experienced moments of cinematic madness caused by fellow ‘patrons’, whether it’s the curse of teenagers who disrupt in the calculated knowledge that the staff are unlikely to do much about it, or the utter twunt who tried to smoke throughout a packed showing of The Return of the King. Yet it doesn’t make it any less of a shame.

Several of my best childhood memories involve moments of magic during those times spent in a pitch-black room containing an enormous screen. The endless adventure of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Luke’s forlorn fight with Vader that rounds off The Empire Strikes Back. That bit in The Black Hole where the Cygnus suddenly lights up. I remember enjoying all this – and much more – in comfort and without interruption, even though the fleapits of 30+ years ago had nothing like the top of the range sound systems, air conditioning and seating we get to enjoy now. Added to which is the cost of a cinema ticket in 2012 – had I paid for yesterday’s seat, I wouldn’t have got much change from a tenner, and that’s for a midweek, afternoon screening in a northern town. I don’t think I’m being too expectant in proposing that, having coughed up, I should be allowed to enjoy my film.

These days, my cinema visits are dropping. The chances of being disturbed (and in the process snapping out of any atmosphere the film tries to create) make it less a pleasure than a vague hope that the ignorant are happy to wait for the DVD or just watch the inevitable sicked-up torrent. Instead, it’s often enough me opting for the home version. DVDs are certainly cheaper, but something’s lost. I would certainly regret it if I wound up seeing Prometheus for the first time on a 32” screen, yet too many times it’s the only resort for an uninterrupted watch.

Anyway, rant over. Normal service to be resumed tomorrow with a fine offering from the French.

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5 Replies to “Films on the Big Box – a trip to the Cinema”

  1. Firstly Mike, thanks for the compliments and the mention.

    I’ve said before that I don’t know how you manage to not only watch so many movies but also find time to produce well written pieces on them. I take my hat off to you – there’s no way I could do it.

    As for the cinema experience, I still enjoy it a lot, even if I don’t always enjoy all the movies I see. I reckon I’ve seen between 30 and 40 films on the big screen in the last 12 months. Just last weekend, I caught an outdoor screening of Casablanca. I’ve seen that movie countless times and can quote the dialogue verbatim for large portions of it. Still, seeing it projected large as part of an audience added another dimension to the whole experience, something that even the most elaborate of home theatre setups cannot replicate.

    1. Thanks Colin – can’t help feeling guilty about not commenting on other peoples’ blogs more. But I will get there in the end… Mrs M and I are off to see Casablanca later this month, as it happens. They’re showing it at the Picture House in Hebden Bridge, where you can still get a cup of tea and a slice of cake to have with your movie! Like you, we’ve seen it many times, but the magic of the big screen wins over. Back in the old, pre-parenting days, trips to the Cornerhouse in Manchester to catch a reissued classic were quite normal. I caught Touch of Evil for the first time there, with a bunch of like-minded film lovers. Fantastic. I have the sense that sometimes I’m asking for trouble when I go to see some family film during a half-term holiday, but the way some parents let the cinema do their childcare for them beggars belief. It makes those instances when everyone is genuinely enraptured by the film that bit more special. I’m sure it was when we saw The Incredibles some years ago that the whole theatre (mainly kids) just engaged with it, which was a lovely moment.

  2. That sounds lovely Mike. I hope you and your other half have a great evening.
    Here in Athens, there are revivals in the outdoor summer cinemas all the time; I had to chose between Casablanca and Key Largo, but I hope to catch the latter by the end of the week.
    One of the big draws, as far as I’m concerned anyway, of outdoor screenings is the ability to smoke as you watch – most civilized. Having said that, I found myself sparking up almost as frequently as Bogart last weekend, so maybe not quite such a good thing. 🙂

    1. Outdoor cinema sounds wonderful, but the British weather tends to knock most attempts on the head. We’ve taken to setting up our own back garden concern, complete with laptop, projector, screen and a speaker system – it isn’t much, but it looks good whenit gets dark and the neighbours sometimes get involved. After watching Prometheus, I thought Alien might be the ideal outdoor film for late at night, especially in a semi-rural area like ours with the occasional animal noises. And, regarding cigarettes,having given up on giving up for the time being, it’s even better to watch films outdoors. What a choice you have over there – not just outdoor cinema, but outdoor classic cinema! It doesn’t sound a lot better than that.

      1. Yeah, it’s definitely one of the perks. What’s even better is that the classics are usually well attended too. I also take it as a positive sign that these movies attract a broad range of viewers. There’s something very encouraging about seeing a packed theatre watching old Bogart of Hitchcock movies and noting that the ages range from early twenties up.

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