Turn off the damn lights

Cinema-going is an experience. Theatres should treat it like one

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Fading up the lights before the first credit touches the screen. It’s the cinema equivalent of a restaurant delivering the bill with your main. The message is subtle but clear: chow down and clear off. You are cattle to be herded through. The next customer is waiting, so digest on the way to the door.

And lest ye thought this was only an end-of-film occurrence, be assured it is not. No, the lights must also remain on until the last possible moment before the film starts. The result of which is as infuriating as it is predictable: a significant chunk of the audience now doesn’t bother showing up until the feature presentation begins. And why not? The lights are on, after all.

It all leads to a devaluing of the cinema experience. Communal viewing is powerful, but it’s already imperfect. We deal with noisy eaters, incessant chatters, glowing phones, and twenty minutes of adverts before the trailers even start (not to mention the seemingly new tactic of sneaking in a few more ads after the trailers).

Theatres may ring out a little extra cash in the short term, but you know where people don’t have to put up with any of the above? Their living room. That place with the 50-inch, 4K 3D screen, surround sound, comfortable sofas, and full lighting control.

Every little nick at the cinema experience devalues it by some fraction in the mind of the paying audience. There have never been more entertainment options, more competition for our eyeballs and wallets. Ticket prices are ever increasing. If it hasn’t already, then at some point, the equation will change.

As per Christopher Nolan: “the experience has to be something great or of course people don’t want to come … if that experience for the audience is not valued … people stop going.”

Picturehouse does it right. Showcase, too. The cinema should be an experience, not a conveyor belt. ATMOS helps. Larger screens help. Nicer seats help. And that few extra moments of darkness to prepare for, and savor, the film? That would help too.

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