Is Cinema Dying?

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What is it with going to the cinema? In days gone by, going to the cinema was a bit like going to the theatre. Everyone got dressed up, and even if you didn’t dress up you’d at least iron your jeans with a lovely sharp crease down the front. It was the highlight of many peoples’ week. People would be queuing out of the door to buy tickets, and movie screens were literally bursting with people. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife once a film had started, and the second the end credits rolled, it was a mad scramble to get out of the doors first, so you could talk about the amazing movie you’d just watched, or you’d hang around to get one last snog before the cleaning squad arrived to systematically fumigate the theatre before the next film began.

Going to the cinema today is a bit like taking part in your own creepy horror film. Lobbies are eerily quiet, cinema ushers look through you with a vacant thousand yard stare, like they’ve seen something horrible but can’t get it out of their minds, and cinema screens are empty. If the lights didn’t go down before the film started, you’d no doubt see tumble weed slowly blowing across the floor.

With more films being produced than ever before, surely cinemas should be booming? Sadly, the opposite is true, with hundreds of cinemas closing every year. So why is cinema dying? Is there anything we can do to resurrect it, apart from using a giant, double decker sized defibrillator, which would be both impractical and too heavy to move, due to the four hundred thousand AA batteries that would be needed to power it?

Another derelict cinema, broken into and defaced by vandals who can’t spell.

The most obvious reason for people choosing not to go to the cinema is cost. Ticket prices have increased faster than the recent German scoreline against Brazil in the World Cup Semi Final, and they continue to increase at an alarming rate. If you’re one of these people that can’t go to the cinema without buying a dustbin full of popcorn and an oil drum of Coke, expect to pay a minimum of twenty pounds for the pleasure, which is frightening. If you’re there on a hot date and get change out of fifty pounds you’re very lucky. And that is the problem- people can’t afford to spend that much money just to watch a film. The cost of living has shot up, whereas the average wage has remained the same, so money is tight. When cinema first began, it was designed as a cheap way for the working class to view the latest world news and see a film for an affordable price. It’s sadly no longer an affordable price, and no longer a regular slot in peoples’ diaries.

The cost of a cinema trip will continue to increase in the future, as movie makers switch to digital (traditional 35mm film will only be used by about 17% of global movie screens by 2015), and they look for new and technologically advanced ways of bringing us their movies. Production costs have rocketed, CGI has tripled the cost of producing a film, and these costs have to be passed on to someone, and sadly that cost seems to have been passed on to the viewer.

The birth of multiplex cinemas in the late 1980’s ultimately has had a huge negative affect on cinema audiences. When they first opened, they were a massive attraction, because the thought of going to a huge cinema with more than two screens and seats that didn’t give you permanent nerve damage was a novelty, so numbers of cinema goers rocketed, to the detriment of local, small cinemas, that were forced to close due to dwindling numbers. However, once people had got used to the idea of floppy cinema hot dogs as long as your arm and lobbies that you could land a stricken Jumbo Jet in, the novelty soon wore off. People didn’t want to pay the costlier entrance fees. People didn’t want to sit in empty cinema screens, as one of the big attractions, especially for horror films, was the atmosphere created by hundreds of screaming and frightened people all together in one big, dark, eerie place. People didn’t want to drive the ten extra miles to get there, as many of the new complexes were built out of town due to their size, resulting in many of the multiplex cinemas closing down.

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This cinema is the size of an actual city, where people are born, live and work inside a giant cinema.

The internet has almost killed cinema and movie rental sites over night. It’s eaten Blockbusters and other movie rental chains for breakfast. If the internet was a bully, it would have taken the pants worn by the cinema, and sharply pulled them up over its head, before giving the cinema a sharp dig in the ribs. No matter how hard it is policed and monitored, internet film piracy is at an all time high. There are at least ten websites that we know of that you can instantly stream all of the latest blockbuster films straight to your computer. The quality may not be the best, as it’s been filmed from someone’s telephone from the back of the screen (they get away with this because screens are always empty, so no one sees them, perhaps a fault of the huge multiplex cinemas?), but people are prepared to negate quality if it saves them twenty pounds going to see it in all its glory. You can almost understand (but not condone) why people turn to piracy to watch the latest films.

Aside from the internet, modern trappings have also turned people away in their droves from the cinema. Many people go to see a film but then complain about how loud the sound was (Dolby digital surround sound can make your kidneys vibrate at even the lowest volume). However, the reason that the volume is so high in cinemas is to drown out the constant noise of phones ringing, fizzy drink slurping, pick and mix sucking and popcorn crunching.Some people also clearly have a speaking curfew in daylight, because as soon as the lights go out, they hold their entire days conversation throughout the film. Why go the the cinema to suffer this assault on your ear drums, when you can wait a few months for the film to be released on DVD or on-line, and then watch it in your bedroom in the dark on your high resolution laptop, with giant headphones and a Twix.

Before the digital age, when a film appeared in the cinema, it then took about two years before it was released on video, probably because it took two years to transfer it onto video tape without the video player chewing it up. However, a fault of the new digital age is that people have become too impatient, and want everything immediately. When internet first took hold, it would take about ten minutes just to load a webpage, where as now, if it doesn’t load up within 0.35 seconds, we throw a massive hissy fit and bang the screen with our fists, as everyone knows this is the sure fire way to make something work quicker. Whatever is released in the cinema today, we expect to watch it at home tomorrow. Films are now released in what seems like weeks after they appear in the cinema, so why bother spending a lot of money at the movies, when you can wait a few weeks and rent if for less than a fiver?

Ultimately, Hollywood itself may be bringing down Hollywood itself, in some sort of bizarre suicide pact involving churning out as much dross and as many completely similar films as possible in a short space of time, so that the cinemas literally drown in a sea of plotless, unimaginative and CGI reliant films. Thirty four Marvel films have hit the cinema in the last fourteen years, and in the last five years, eighty four super hero films have been released.  If you lived in London and loved these sorts of films, it would have cost you £1427 to view them all. Dont get us wrong, sci fi geeks will be drooling over their Star Trek back catalogue at the thought of so many sci fi based films, but they are not the majority of cinema goers. Cinema goers want choice, but Hollywood has gotten lost in what ‘choice’ means. It means a variety of themes and subjects, a vast array for the vast tastes of film lovers- not film after film of grown adults in tight leather costumes wearing capes and saving the world.

So what is the future of the cinema? Sadly, people are still turning away from the cinemas in their droves. The explosion of downloadable movies and the simple cost of going to the pictures means that the days of the multiplex cinema are drawing to a close. But whilst this is bad news for the cinema industry, it has lead to one fantastic rebirth. Small, independent, art deco cinemas and picture houses are making a much welcomed return, and are popping up in towns all over the country. The magic of the cinema has returned, with all of the things we remember as a child about going the cinema- the ticket stubs, the queues, the ushers at the interval, and the plain, basic seats in the beautiful, old fashioned cinema screen.

These cinemas have shunned Hollywood, and embraced the independent film makers, with many nights dedicated to the latest crowd funding success, or a selection of independent, British made movies. Cinema may be dying, but these classic ones have risen from the ashes, and are surely the only hope for the future of cinema. Hollywood will continue to churn out bland film after bland film, with the odd gem, but sadly the odd gem will get lost in a sea of dross. Hollywood is killing itself and killing cinema, maybe it’s time for independent films to don the tight leather costume and superhero cape, and save the day.

Christian started writing film reviews at school for a local paper. Since then he has written for BBC Radio 4's Newsjack and The London Film Review. He also writes and presents a comedy show on AbingdonXtra, an Oxfordshire based radio station.