The audience is always wrong at the multiplex

Sunday October 28th 2012

For a few years now, I’ve been lucky enough to see most theatrically released films for free, in some of the best cinemas in London, without the need to worry about booking, seat availability, noisy audiences or any of the other myriad woes that seem to be part and parcel of the modern cinema experience. But last night, good friends, I felt your pain. Last night, I knew what it was to be a 21st Century cinemagoer. Last night, I paid £10.95 to watch Skyfall at the Camden Odeon.

I say £10.95, though of course a 75p card handling fee quickly bumped that up to £11.70. And while I booked online well in advance of the screening, the lack of reserved seating meant I had to get there a good half hour before the film started just to get a spot with even the most rudimentary view of the screen. Of course, I wasn’t the only one with the foresight to get there early, and so I arrived to find a hundred-strong queue up the staircase of the Odeon, waiting patiently to be allowed into Screen 1. When we were finally permitted to enter, it was only with the proviso that security cameras and patrolling guards would be monitoring the cinema at all times, lest we attempt to immortalise Bond’s latest jaunt on our phones.

Inside the auditorium, five rows of ‘premier seats’ remained empty while the scrambling hoards desperately fought for the six and a half remaining spaces that offered anything in the way of a clear view. I settled for a front row aisle seat, which had the advantage of easy access to the toilets, but the disadvantage of making the rectangular screen look like some kind of expressionist Matisse cutout. The sound system had the timbre of an overloud party in a neighbouring flat.

When the scheduled start time finally rolled around, the lights dimmed and the show began. By which I mean, the sales pitch began. Over the next half hour, we were treated to commercials for Smirnoff, Berghaus, Halo 4, Next, BT Infinity, Ikea, Toyota, Guiness, M&Ms, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, the Odeon Premiere Club and Orange, plus three of four other brands that I failed to note down. There were also a total of five ads for THE FUCKING MOVIE WE WERE THERE TO SEE, in the form of Skyfall promotional tie-in spots for 007 Fragrances, Omega, O2, Sony and Heineken. And all of this, of course, before the 143-minute Heineken-Range Rover-VW-Sony Vaio-Omega-Aston Martin advert that is Skyfall itself.

And then there was a word from FACT, illustrated with an ominous clip in which a group of cinemagoers disappear one by one from a quiet auditorium. “Don’t let the experience fade away,” the voiceover urged, before advising us to violently castrate any would-be pirates in our midst.

Well fuck FACT. Fuck The Industry Trust. Fuck the Alliance for Intellectual Property. Fuck Odeon. Fuck MGM. Fuck Sony. Fuck anyone who’d have the audacity to guilt-trip the public into a state of total reverence for ‘the cinematic experience’ whilst simultaneously doing everything within their power to destroy it. Fuck anyone who’d target an anti-piracy ad campaign at a room full of paying customers. Fuck anyone for whom Skyfall is primarily an opportunity to sate quotas, recoup losses and exploit viewers.

I realise no single group is entirely to blame here. Odeon have been lumped with a two-and-half-hour movie that they’ll be lucky to squeeze more than four screenings a day out of, and one for which they receive only a tiny sliver of box office revenue — it’s really no wonder they feel the need to pad out their ad reel. Sony, for their part, splashed out $150m on the follow-up to Quantum of fucking Solace, and almost certainly spent the same again on marketing it — who can blame them for accepting a Heineken deal that covered almost a third of that budget in one fell swoop? And Heineken — well, they’re Heineken, what the fuck do they care about cinema audiences?

Ultimately, the fault lies less with any one link in the chain than with the chain itself, which continues to put audiences a firm second to pretty much every commercial interest. When Skyfall inevitably hits torrent sites sometime later this week, the ‘cinematic experience’ — as it stands for the majority of the British public — is going to have a hard time keeping up.