It seems the saying is true: “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”. The recent lockdown has made people understand this sentiment more than ever, with non-essential businesses being forced into hibernation. But what I, and many others, have missed the most is the thrill of seeing a movie on the big screen. With the increase of new films being watched in the comfort of one’s home, will cinemas no longer be deemed necessary?
Not only have cinemas had to adapt to these ever-changing times, but filmmakers have had to retreat from their sets and discover new ways of telling stories. Shazam! director David F. Sandberg turned his house into a film set, creating a three-minute horror short entitled Shadowed. He makes use of the props at his disposal, with lights being used to create unsettling silhouettes. This is the perfect example of how, as Jurassic Park taught us; “life finds a way”. There’s no telling when film sets will be able to return to normality but there will always be people who want to tell stories.
In an interview with Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo, the Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro commented that “art without constraints is not art”, showing that film-makers will not be stopped by the pandemic. The production of his new film was cut short, but he remains hopeful for a time when it can return to normal. Films have continuously brightened the lives of the general public for over 100 years, regardless of what is happening outside the cinema’s walls. As most films are available to watch online, the experience of cinema does not have to be abandoned.
The scent of freshly popped popcorn… the excited anticipation that runs throughout the advertisements… and the joy of seeing a film with others.
But does it matter if you are watching a film on the big screen or at home? Both experiences have their pros and cons. Watching at home means you can get cosy in the safety of your own living room, free to pause whenever you like. Although the cinema means there is usually a nearby person munching through their brimming bag of Pick ‘n Mix, there is a certain magic to the experience. This atmosphere is difficult to recreate at home, especially when comparing the quality of picture and sound. The scent of freshly popped popcorn… the excited anticipation that runs throughout the advertisements… and the joy of seeing a film with others.
Even in lockdown, viewers have found ways to watch with friends. In Belfast, several drive-in cinemas have been reopened, allowing film-lovers to recapture that feeling. Whether it’s pressing “play” on a movie at the same time and texting back and forth throughout, or having a Netflix party with a larger group, we still crave that experience of watching a movie with the people we love.
I am lucky enough to live in Guernsey, where there have been no cases for over two months and lockdown has been lifted (fingers crossed this is still true when this article is released). This means that the cinema on the island has been allowed to open, but now they must face the question of what to show. What they have decided on is rather marvellous. First, they screened all 8 Harry Potter films (with a discounted ticket if you watched the full set). Now classics such as The Goonies, Jaws and Jurassic Park are set for a cinematic showing. The one cinema in Guernsey may be the size of some people’s home cinema, but it’s something. For younger audiences, this gives them the chance to see films at the cinema that were first released before their time. Adults can relive the experience of watching tree-munching dinosaurs plodding across the screen, or the risky adventures of a group of odd-ball kids. In these times of constant flux, audiences can return to a sense of familiarity with these films. Although this is a small-scale example of how cinemas are dealing with the lack of new films, it shows that our love of cinema is alive and strong.
However, with the ever-increasing selection of on-demand services such as Netflix, Hulu and Disney+, will this drive remain after lockdown is over in the rest of the world? According to Forbes, last year saw a decline of 8% in North American cinema attendance. Many companies have opted to release new films straight to on-demand services. Disney+, for example, skipped a cinema release for their 2019 remake of Lady and the Tramp.
Like every other industry, corona-virus will have an undeniable effect on cinema. People may feel less of a need to see a new movie in the cinema, preferring to remain at home and not have to fork out for overpriced tickets. But part of me hopes that these last few months have reminded us why we love the experience. We love the spectacle. We love the buzz. We love the feeling of togetherness. Seeing a film in the cinema can combine all these feelings, and much more.