When Cinema Succeeds

I’m a fan of photography, of DSLR in cinematography, of time-lapse and slow motion. Having seen a trailer for a documentary which used all these techniques I ended up booking tickets and heading into the heart of Central London to the Institute Of Contemporary Arts, one of only two places in London showing the feature. The Chasing Ice documentary follows the progression of the Extreme Ice Surveyors over a period of years. And what it shows is spectacular:

Their pioneering work of constructing a way to photograph icebergs and landscapes over a period of years is something the world hasn’t seen before. What they achieve is a way of showing that our world doesn’t follow the pattern we expect throughout our four seasons. The icebergs and poles don’t “grow, shrink, grow, shrink” as you’d expect. It’s more “shrink, shrink, shrink, shrink“. This documentary clearly shows it. And just for reference, that rock of ice that breaks and churns in the opening of the trailer is about half the size of Manhattan.

However, this blog isn’t a piece for or against the argument of “climate change”. What I actually wanted to write about is something far more basic, and less of a political storm. A few days ago I wrote on the failures of the local Odeon Cinema to reach the basic standard I expected from such a chain, citing poor upkeep and baffling design to their screening rooms. In order to accommodate more screens (and in turn take more money) it appears they’re sacrificing the real cinema experience for profit. I still await their reply. Less “Fanatical About Film“, more “Fanatical About Profit, Less So On The Customer“. But that’d probably be too long for their billboards.

But the Institute Of Contemporary Arts succeeded where Odeon Cinema clearly failed. The ICA has only two screens, they have old fashioned movie theatre chairs (in sensible solid rows), their prices were good, their employees were great, the screen was clear and bright, the sound was perfect and it was packed to the rafters (literally).

So take note, Odeon! Some people like the idea of running their own pub or hotel. I might just run my own cinema just to be your competition…

When Cinema Fails

We are in an age where downloading pirate versions of the latest blockbusters is as easy as making a cup of tea. Let me be clear, however, that I do not condone piracy. But why on earth would anyone want to pay their hard-earned cash for a below-par cinema experience? Here’s a little blog about an experience at my local cinema watching Skyfall.

My main passion in life is cinema. The thrill of a movie experience comes down to being taken away to another world, connecting with the characters and being part of a crazy ride. At home, I’ve attempted to recreate the cinema experience with the big screen TV, surround sound system, comfy beanbags and popcorn. But it truly pales in comparison to a proper cinema visit.

Last night I had high hopes for watching Sam Mendes’ Skyfall in the best possible way and so headed to the local cinema. But my experience at Cineworld Feltham was truly shocking. I don’t know who designed the space for these screens, but it appears they have little to no experience in acoustics or aesthetics. It was appalling.

The floor had bags of popcorn strewn around the place. The projector screen was dirty with smear marks all over it. But the worst thing for me was the sound. During the commercials and trailers I noticed that something wasn’t quite right. The voices, which in a 5.1 surround sound system are meant to come from the central speaker below the screen, were coming mainly from the left of the cinema screen. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think they likely have a row of “central” speakers along the bottom of the screen. But only the very left-hand side one was working.

This sound problem causes a visual problem; if someone is talking on the right of screen you don’t expect to have their voice come from the left. It’s confusing and distracting. Imagine wearing headphones to listen to music and having all the lyrics in the left ear and the drums only in the right. You’d spot right away that something was wrong.

What was also worse was the volume of the sound. It was clearly too loud as the speakers were rasping and distorting during certain scenes. The volume should not distort the quality of the sound. There’s a good chance that the volume levels are what’s blown some of their speakers. Does anyone check these things?

The other aspect of this cinema was its shape. The best place to sit would ideally be somewhere near the back and central to the screen. Not only do you therefore get the best viewing angle, you are also positioned in the perfect place for the sound. But there are no seats in the centre area, because they chose to put the aisle right down the middle instead. So any position you watched the screen from was going to be at an angle to the screen. And in essence there are no back row of seats, as the cinema is in an L-shape! With the double-doors to the back-left of the cinema , the back three rows are only on the right hand side of the aisle! So anyone sitting there neither gets the best view of the screen nor decent sound as the left hand side speakers are blocked by the doors!

I’ve written a letter to the cinema asking the reasons behind the design of the screens and pointing out the problem with their sound. Here’s hoping someone takes notice.

To advertise in their own cinema that “piracy is a crime” is one thing, but to let someone sit through that sort of experience is another.

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UPDATE: As of 8th February, more than 7 weeks after the letter was sent, there was still no response from Odeon regarding the above.