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Culture, Theatre, Film

The Cult of Cinema

Are we on the verge of a full-blown cinema resurgence?

James Pike
The Cult of Cinema Blade Runner

With more and more ways to view your favourite films it's a wonder anyone goes to the cinema at all these days – you can practically recreate the experience in your very own living room without breaking the bank. But with nostalgia-fuelled event organisers bringing new concepts to the masses are we on the verge of a full-blown cinema resurgence?

With the likes of Netflix et al, you may be forgiven for thinking that the age of the multiplex is on its last legs. But in 2018, the US box office reported an 8% increase in domestic ticket sales, despite hitting a 25-year low in 2017. The inconsistency within the industry can be attributed to many things. For the naysayers, you have an abundance of streaming services and the original content they produce, the home viewing experience being more palatable and the expeditiousness of new releases rendering your expensive trip to the cinema all the more redundant. However, with an emphasis on ‘communal immersion’ (and some crowd-pleasing blockbusters old and new), the cinema experience is upping its game in the form of open-air viewings and fully immersive film events. This isn’t down to the bureaucrats within the industry looking to increase their revenue, this is down to the people – the lovers of film.

The concept of open-air cinemas can be traced to Germany, as far back as the early 1900s. Unable to compete with the comfort offered within permanent, structured venues, the concept never really gained traction in Europe until much later. Meanwhile in the US, drive-in theatres were cropping up all over the place with their peak in popularity apparent in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As with any good story there is always conflict, when home entertainment became more accessible during the 1970s drive-in theatre attendance started to decline. But if film history teaches us anything it’s that the medium, unpredictable as it is, is always evolving in some way. Video rentals had their heyday through the 80s and 90s before this was swiftly taken over by video-on-demand (VOD) and the early conception of streaming services. Moving into the noughties, the return of the open-air cinema started to resonate with film-lovers worldwide who began to yearn for a departure from the sofa, bringing the concept full circle.

Nowadays open-air cinemas are commonplace; there are a plethora of event organisers (corporate and independent) who have a neat foothold in airing films in some highly prestigious settings – many of which are right here in Oxfordshire. What open-air cinemas are doing for the industry is encouraging people to ascend from the armchair and come together to share their love of film. To compete, more and more brick-and-mortar cinemas are signing up to initiatives such as Ourscreen – a brilliant idea where you choose the film, venue and date at no additional cost –the only catch being you need to sell enough tickets to qualify. The point here is that these are all novel ideas designed in keeping the experience alive and more interactive regardless of the financial market share. It’s also important to consider that a lot of these start-ups were created by savvy, film-loving entrepreneurs, looking to evolve the cinema-going experience to ensure its future is not overshadowed by streaming services.

For those of you wanting to enhance this further there are fully immersive experiences (which literally drop you directly into that film’s world.) Secret Cinema specialise in such events but there are more competitors out there starting to flood the market. Having been to see The Empire Strikes Back and Blade Runner (both hosted by Secret Cinema) I can tell you that if you haven’t been to one of their events already, you really are missing out. The scale and level of detail is truly spectacular – actors roam highly authentic sets, emulating the characters and scenarios of the film you have gone to see, which is fully immersive and interactive. When you eventually sit down to watch the film, key scenes are mirrored in real time. It’s the closest you will ever get to being in the movies…for now.

James Cameron’s Avatar came very close to creating this – without leaving the comfort of your chair, by developing stereoscopic and motion capture filming techniques (which were considered a breakthrough within the industry at the time) the audience were granted an illusion that gave greater depth to the images on the screen never seen before – put another way, there is a reason that Avatar made $2.7 billion worldwide. With the sequel(s) mere years away, the prospect of Cameron developing upon his already groundbreaking techniques is surely an enticing and exciting prospect for film.

So, what’s next? That all boils down to consumer demand. VR (Virtual Reality) is making headway in gaming, and there are companies out there that create narrative based experiences through VR, but could we see a successful leap to film, or is it asking too much of its audience to embrace?

The point to take away from all of this is that despite the rise in on-demand services there is still a huge appetite for the cinema experience. There is this undying desire to gather en masse and watch some of the most beloved films ever to grace the screen in varying formats and styles, an opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and share your film stories for generations to come in a traditional manner. The more you will it, the more innovative experiences will be developed – the essence of keeping the ‘tradition’ alive is very much on us.


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