So, I was reading a well-written and passionate post by Jason over at Jason’s Movie Blog which just so happened to coincide with a recent trip to my nearest Cinema and the less recent news that Belfast’s famous Dublin Road Cinema is due to close. Cinema closures in Northern Ireland, and throughout the rest of the world are no big thing, but this one is personal to me. The Cinema will soon shut its doors as of the time you read this, caused by a number of factors including lower attendance figures across the industry, and viewers in Belfast seemingly preferring to go to Cinemas in either the more suburban areas or those on the outskirts of the city. Belfast is a tiny city, even by UK standards, but it does house quite a few Cinemas, although sadly most are carbon copies of each other bringing little more than the latest chart blockbusters – there’s The Odeon in Victoria Square Shopping Mall, Odyssey Cinemas in The Odyssey Complex, Movie House Cinema at Yorkgate (sister to Dublin Road’s Movie House Cinema, as well as Short Strand Cinema and one in The Kennedy Centre – neither of which I’ve been to. Throw in a few notable smaller ventures – the QFT at Queen’s University where I frequented, and Beanbag Cinema which is exactly as it sounds.
Beanbag and QFT offer alternatives – Indie and Local movies, documentaries and Art films, take part in festivals, and also show films long since out of screening. I’ve posted before about my ideal Cinema – read that here – it’s essentially a huge complex which offers all the latest movies, but also movies from around the world along with regular seasons on a certain theme or by a certain director/actor etc. Not living in a big city like London or LA or wherever, where it seems you have unlimited choice, we basically have to take what we can get, so it’s difficult to get the full Cinema experience while also broadening your horizons. Most of my horizons were broadened by VHS, DVD, and watching late night TV.
Nowadays, it’s so easy to stretch those horizons – a few clicks of a few buttons, and you have anything. It’s one of the reasons why many Cinemas are closing their doors – why go out, when you can stay in? Why spend all that money when you can catch up on the other thousand movies you haven’t seen, then in a few weeks the one you passed over on the big screen will be on your small screen? Why get ripped off on popcorn and drinks prices when you can get a month’s worth at your local store for the same price as a single Cinema outing? Why deal with other people talking and chewing and laughing and looking at their phones and existing, when you can close your doors and curtains and sit butt naked on your sofa? All the old reasons for going to the Cinema are gradually fading away, or are gone together. In the past it took years for a film to come to VHS and TV; now it’s a few months – or in some cases the same day. You can easily make your own Slushy drinks and Popcorn at home now. TV Screens are much larger and of a much greater quality than ever before. So why even bother going to the Cinema now?
For some people, it’s because they have to be first – they want to see it first so that they can avoid spoilers, so that they can be part of the conversation, so that they can tweet about it, or write a blog post about it. I only go to the Cinema now if it’s something I desperately want to see on the big screen (which is precious few films these days), or for something to do with the kids (which is only a handful of times a year). And yet, when I had a Cinema on my doorstep I was there every week, watching whatever was on. That’s where Dublin Road Cinema comes in… but more on that later.
For me, the problem is an equation made up of time, money, and distance. My nearest Cinema is a fifteen/twenty minute drive away – admittedly that’s very small and any US readers are probably wondering what the problem is. Well, for one I don’t really like driving, and for two I’ll almost inevitably get stuck behind a tractor/slow driver/idiot/cyclist/all of these. Plus, when I get to that nearest Cinema it only has so many car park spaces because it isn’t just a Cinema – it’s also a Crazy Golf joint, a bowling alley, a pile of restaurants, an arcade, and an indoor playpark. It’s busy – all the time, and parking is a pain in the arse. So, a twenty minute drive becomes leaving twenty minutes early to account for parking and idiots on the road. Factor in a 2 hour movie, padded out to 2 and a half thanks to all the ads and trailers, then 20 minutes driving home – you’ve quickly chopped 3 or 4 hours out of the day. So time and distance go hand in hand. Money then – if I’m going by myself it’s not such a huge deal. A single ticket is probably five quid, and I stash my own food and drinks inside my coat/pockets. Going with the family – our trip a few days ago to see The Secret Life Of Pets 2 cost thirty quid, which is much less than what I thought it was going to be, but again we’d stashed some of our own grub away. It’s usually closer to forty or fifty quid and to spend that sort of money on a few hours of entertainment when we could get the same at home for nowt, seems frivolous and wasteful.
This all sounds like I hate going to the Cinema. I don’t – I love it. I love the big screen, the seats, the volume thronging through my body, the smell, the trailers, the anticipation, even the communal experience. When I was younger I would have movie nights with friends, but those just don’t exist for me anymore. While Cinema can’t replace the banter and comfort of watching with friends at home, the home can’t replace the uncertain excitement of the Cinema. This post has had a long gestation – I heard about Dublin Road Cinema closing months ago from a colleague who worked there, before it was officially announced. I’ve lived in my current Cinema-less town for almost eight years, and in each of those years I’ve asked why it doesn’t have a Cinema. It’s not a big town and it wouldn’t need a big Cinema, but given the sheer amount of people that my nearest one gets, one in my town would mean that it was another option. There are so many smaller villages around my town that it makes financial sense – people already come here to shop, let them come to watch a movie too, and shop some more, and have something to eat. Like I say, it doesn’t need to be huge – three or four screens would suffice. Five would be nice. If there was a Cinema in my town, within walking distance, I would never be out of it.
Because I love the Cinema experience. Some of my best times have been in front of the big screen, and some of my favourite movies (as well as many not so great ones) were seen in Dublin Road Cinema. I saw the last two Matrix movies there, I saw the last two LOTR movies there, some of my first dates with my wife were there. I went to Queen’s University which is about a ten minute walk from Dublin Road Cinema, and because my lectures were spread through the day and week, my only options between times were going to the pub, going to the library, and going to the Cinema. Two out of three of those were more frequent than the other. When I moved in with my then girlfriend, we lived off the Ormeau Road – fifteen minutes from the Cinema. On Fridays we would get drunk in The Errigle Bar and on Saturdays we would go to the Cinema – if we didn’t, I would dander down the road myself on Sunday morning and hang around until the Cinema doors opened and go in myself to enjoy the latest torture porn. It was the perfect place for a Cinema – within walking distance of most of my favourite bars and beside a little square where I would sit and ‘do things’ to girlfriends before my wife came along. It was on the main road walking to University from the Bus Station, meaning I could check out all the posters adorning the outside, then on the rest of the walk I would work out which movies I would see that week. The layout and decor of the interior I’ll never forget – when I imagine my ideal Cinema, it’s always Dublin Road I think of.
So, how do we stop this from happening? How do we keep our Cinemas open? It’s a complex question with complicated answers. We have to do our part – even with my excuses, and your excuses, even with our distractions and other options – we have to keep going. It’s still a one of a kind experience. It’s up to the Cinemas to accentuate those unique positives they have to convince us to keep going. It’s up to the big chains to allow the smaller ones to keep breathing. It’s up to the entrepreneurs and smaller companies to follow their dreams and create niche alternatives, and it’s up to governments, towns, cities, investors to fund those dreams and allow them to become reality. I still say the Cinema Experience can be heightened by having chat rooms and bars installed – places people can go to talk about the movie afterwards. I still say that that we should exit through the gift shop – have posters and shirts and memorabilia and toys and junk from each movie on display, so we can buy or peruse on the way out. I’m clearly no Businessman, but why no go Blue Ocean on Cinemas? Exploit what is unique about them and find those ways to increase revenue that haven’t been tried or considered before. Calm the hell down on your current pricing, because that will be your death knell. Give us something we can’t get anywhere else, and give us a reason to sacrifice our time and money for it, aside from big ‘splosions and a Marvel or Disney logo.
How do you think Cinemas can be saved? Do you think they need saving? Has your favourite Cinema closed down? Let us know in the comments!