Tom Jolliffe ponders what will get you back to cinemas, and what he will be triumphantly returning for…
Cinema has taken a hell of a beating in the last year. Early signs of recovery have been promising in the US, as studios cope with readjusted expectations, and attempt to build a new model that may well include simultaneous home release. Some films did pretty well all told, Mortal Kombat performing fairly impressively for example, whilst Spiral took below expected as far as opening weekend on the big screen.
The question to those who have yet to return during Covid, is: What will tempt you back to the big screen? In the UK, cinemas have only just reopened. This was a question that through months of lockdown I had pondered. What was going to get me out from the comfort of home and lure me back into a cinema (particularly a multiplex). Cinema has become something of a contentious subject anyway. Purists will bemoan the increasingly soulless experience, perhaps ruined by obnoxious sound systems, and even more obnoxious fellow patrons, unable to switch their phone off for two hours. There’s an element of truth in that. I’m not an expert, but even I have found that some venues (particularly ‘big’ chains) don’t know how to set up a sound system. Or I come out with as much ear damage as a Heavy metal concert inside a shipping container. In part too, the dearth in interesting selections (particularly outside of Indie cinemas) has been something that I hoped would change, and in more recent times signs are good.
I recently wondered whether Fast 9 might be a revving NOS powered kickstarter for cinema. It’s just the right dose of escapist silliness that audiences need and it also has the requisite scale that will be best enjoyed at. If we’re waiting for the next ‘big’ event, then Vin’s car and carnage franchise is the standout. It might be difficult to convince an audience to come out for the latest Angelina Jolie film (Those Who Wish Me Dead) when the film is simultaneously available on PPV, and feels less spectacular in scale than a big screen audience may look for in an action vehicle. I’d be interested in the consensus. Is it Fast 9 getting you back? Are you waiting for No Time To Die?
I wasn’t entirely sure what might lure me back. I wasn’t expecting to get back into a cinema until August by revisiting an old favourite (for the first time on big screen): Tarkovksy’s Stalker. Now I grant you, this one is unlikely to be a common answer, not beyond any Indie chain screenings that are forthcoming (incidentally, it’s playing at The Prince Charles Cinema for a small run in August). However, one thing I’ve always hoped for in cinema schedules, is more place for classic films. It has been a rare treat to see films rereleased on the big screen (usually to coincide with anniversaries). These tried and tested favourites from a bygone era where perhaps storytelling and character were paramount above fan service, universe building and spectacle, could well interest people who never saw them on the big screen during first run. I might sound 100 right now, but I guarantee you I never saw Citizen Kane on its first run. So if Fast 9 doesn’t pull me right up to its start line, it may be Stalker…or at least that WAS the case…
Those pesky algorithms. One minute you’re talking about nipple clamps, and the next minute your webpage is hammered with the latest and greatest from Wish. Yep, Big Brother is watching and listening. He can read my mind it seems (tin foil hat on). Big Brother got me though. On behalf of Vue cinemas. He has managed to forcibly prod me back toward a cinema earlier than expected, during the first week of lockdown easing. In among the fellow publicans, risking life and limb for cinematic enjoyment. They’re showing Total Recall and Taxi Driver. There’s no way I’m not going to watch those, having not been fortunate enough to catch them on the big screen yet. Better yet, I don’t even have to venture all the way into London to get my classic film fix, it’s my local.
Recall has had a recent and much vaunted 4K invigoration and will undoubtedly look great. Although I’ve seen it countless times, I do want that feeling of seeing it afresh, and that can come by getting into an auditorium and seeing it on a huge screen with an audience (two metres apart too…heaven…). Re-watching Blade Runner a few years back on the big screen was astonishing, like seeing it for the first time again. This recent increase in classic re-releases, which began last year after the first lockdown easing, is looking likely to continue for the foreseeable future, as blockbusters selections won’t really kick into full swing until next year. My own hope is that there’s enough traction to suggest that audiences are willing to go to these and make it worthwhile as a long term, consistent option.
Every classic re-release I’ve been to at a multiplex has had a good turnout. Yet I’ve been to new releases on a Friday evening in near empty rooms. Some films just don’t lend themselves to a modern day cinema release, with the increasing rise in PPV/streaming options, and are essentially taking up space. Rambo: Last Blood for example, felt tired, dated and every inch a straight to video kind of film. For that market it would have been a good watch. On big screen? It felt like it was wasting space, which pains me to say (that was one dead Friday evening opening). Play First Blood instead, and you might just fill that screen. Alongside classics, it’d be great to have more consistent indie and world cinema options too.
Cinema, as I’m sure it is for many of you, is ingrained in my DNA. From a first encounter watching Masters of the Universe, to experiencing big pop cultural phenoms like Jurassic Park or The Phantom Menace (which had a tinge of bittersweet disappointment). I’ve also experienced it across several countries outside of the UK. I’ve had the American cinema experience as well as in East and South East Asia. I’ve watched Schwarzenegger pack an audience in The Philippines (for a film he couldn’t pack them in for in the West) in The Last Stand, and I’ve stood prior to a film (Dredd) to applaud the King in Thailand (a not entirely optional tradition, but kind of cool). It gave a bit of pomp and ceremony to the whole thing. So I will be back, and I want everyone else to go back too.
Which film got you back (if you’ve already returned)? Which film will get you back? Let us know your thoughts on our social channels @flickeringmyth, or hit me up on the gram…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/