What is the So-Called Cinematic Experience?

The movie website FilmJuice have just published my first feature article entitled simply ‘The Cinematic Experience’.

As regular readers of this site will doubtless recall, I have a great fondness not only for the cinema as an institution but also its capacity to bludgeon us into a state of supine beatitude with no more than a thunderous explosion of transforming robot. In fact, I recently had a ‘best genre films of 2011’ piece published in the BSFA’s house journal Vector and my top ten included Takeshi Koike’s recently released Redline, an anime so beautifully animated and insanely visual that its finale rivals the pure cinematic spectacle of the opening sequence of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. However, despite enjoying both 3D and action movies projected on vast IMAX screens, my article expresses a good deal of concern over what I call the technological arms race that is currently raging between the cinema chains and the consumer electronics firms:

The race began when James Cameron resurrected 3D technology and made a fortune with his Smurf-based epic Avatar. Convinced that 3D was the future of film, cinema chains spent billions retrofitting their theatres with digital 3D projectors. For a while, this worked quite nicely and everyone made money. Then audiences began getting tired of having to pay extra for poorly made 3D films and technology companies soon found a way of providing 3D at home, thereby sending everyone back to square one. Next came the suggestion that the only way to experience Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol was on one of those giant IMAX screens that are usually used to entertain tourists with images of shipwrecks and dinosaurs. Unfortunately, while it is difficult to imagine Samsung and LG finding a way of making home IMAX systems, the failure to sell Andrew Stanton’s John Carter as an IMAX experience suggests that the popularity of IMAX may be even more fragile than 3D. Furthermore, if IMAX is to become the new benchmark for cinematic experiences, then cinema chains will be forced to spend even more money building thousands of new IMAX. With many industry insiders already talking up vibrating seats as the Next Big Thing, the toxic and self-destructive nature of this technological arms race is becoming all too apparent.

While I do not mention it in the article itself for reasons of space, I feel that a far better use of money would be to invest in updating the existing cinematic infrastructure so as to ensure that every screen in the country has comfy seats, good quality projection, properly functioning speakers, adequate sound-proofing and a concession stand that aspires to being more than a dementedly ruinous tuck shop.

For me, the cinematic experience is not some fairground ride but an act of almost religious devotion. I choose to see films in the cinema because I value the act of leaving my house and traveling to see a film. I choose to see films in the cinema because I like sitting in a space designed solely for the purpose of viewing films. I enjoy the distraction-free environment of a quiet cinema and I am more than happy to pay for the opportunity to use it because I believe that it is the best possible environment in which to surrender myself to a director’s vision.

And if you’re looking for a personal recommendation: My favourite London cinema is the big screen at the Curzon Mayfair.