Monday, November 24, 2008

Why I don't go to cinemas...

Over the years I've put a fairly large investment into our home theatre set up. We have a nice TV - not HD, but close; really good speakers - without being stupidly expensive; and good-quality wiring and layout to get the most from each component.

And, of course, we have a very nice, large, and extremely comfortable sofa: it can seat four people easily across, and still leaves room for a 5th & 6th if need be; or just a 5th person lain out in the corner.

We have a large living area, that flows straight on to the kitchen, so it's easy to hit the fridge for refreshments in the middle of the movie; grab a snack; make a coffee; pour a glass of wine etc. And the TV is wall-mounted, so you can easily see it from the kitchen - you don't miss the action while you're up and about.

As the home theatre has gotten better over the years, we've been seeing films at the cinema less and less. Instead, we buy DVDs and watch them at home.

Last Christmas we received a $100 Gift Card for the new Gold Class cinemas in Sydney (Greater Union, George St). We finally decided to take advantage of that, break out of our home-viewing habits, and go to see Quantum of Solace (new Bond film) at the cinema. Gold Class cinemas provide you with big comfy seats, food & drink service during the film; and a relatively small audience. All the benefits of home, but someone does all the hard work, and the cinema experience is always going to out-do our little set-up at home.

Ordering the tickets for the movie online was a pain in the ass, just to get the whole experience started. The booking process was singularly unhelpful, and the seat layout displayed during the selection stage didn't match the layout printed at the confirmation stage - so we had no idea whether our seats would be what we hoped. Getting the site to accept the Gift Card serial number was similarly painful, but after several attempts - and the realisation that Gift Cards were different to Gift Vouchers - we were successful. $82.50 later and we have our tickets.

Arriving at the cinema everything was good. We were there in plenty of time, but the foyer at the cinema has no signage to indicate where the Gold Class lounge is situated. After looking around blankly for a while we asked a staff member who pointed us upstairs and said "Through the glass doors". "Up there?" I asked. "Yes, we only have one set of glass doors." Right. Silly us for not knowing that already.

We placed an order for a gourmet pizza ($21); and two banana smoothies ($8.50 each). Asked for them to be brought in around the 30 minute mark of the film; paid; and waited for the theatre to open.

Five minutes before the scheduled opening time we were asked to head in; up some more stairs and into the theatre. We were shown to our seats and given a cursory demonstration of the seat controls - "The seat controls are located here." *Shrug* OK.

First things first: try out the seat controls. Foot rest: check; reclining: check. Look over to my wife - nothing. Controls are dead. Go off to find the stewardess who comes over; wiggles something in back of the seat and now it works.

The gourmet pizza place that delivers our pizza on a Friday night sends us two medium pizzas for around $30. The local cafe makes a mean banana smoothie - all fresh ingredients, natural yoghurt, honey, wheatgerm - all for $6.50.

The food and smoothies served up at the Gold Class cinema were very average by comparison. The pizza was passable, but not worth the $21. The smoothies were really milkshakes, and used that banana-flavoured concentrate instead of real bananas. When they arrived during the movie, the waitress stood in front of me (blocking my view of the screen) while she fluffed around re-arranging the tray table between us. Eventually the food and drinks were served; the waitress left. And apparently someone significant had been killed, rather spectacularly and gruesomely.

The whole point of the Gold Class cinema is that it should be substantially better than any other movie viewing experience. The cinema operators seem to think that they can get away with serving over-priced, sub-standard food and drinks and people will put up with it because it's better than seeing a movie in the cheap seats among the great unwashed.

But guess what: I get a better movie experience at home! No-one gets in my way while the film's running. The ingredients are fresh; and I can at least pause the film to get the pizza when it arrives. Hell, we can make our own smoothies for a quarter of the price, and they'll be just the way we like them.

Our outing cost us a total of $120.50 + bus fares. For the same price I could have bought two new-release HD DVD titles; pizza; wine; smoothies; and be able to watch them again and again at any time.

Greater Union blew an opportunity to get my wife and I out of the house and seeing new release films with them - and paying a premium for the better seats etc - by realising that we weren't going to compare the experience with what we get in the general-admission cinemas. A little bit of care with the service; serving up food and drinks that matched or bettered the fare available from a decent local cafe; and we'd be coming back for more.

Instead, I think next time we'll be buying the movie when it's released on DVD, and enjoying ourselves at home with friends.

PS: The movie itself was enjoyable. Worth seeing, if only to see the continuing evolution of the Bond character in this new, grittier incarnation.


Anonymous said...

There is no better and more personalized movie-watching experience than the one in your living room.

And that is why cable companies are recession-proof ;)

Unknown said...

My complaints about going to the cinema are: not in focus, sound level wrong, soundtrack distorted/corrupted, reel changes/splices, lighting, corner vignetting. This is why I stay at home and control the environment.

There is NO WAY directors see their own films as they are butchered in cineplexes.

Anonymous said...

Agreed! We've had slightly better experiences at Gold Class Bondi Junction (multiple visits). But overall it's not significantly better than the general theatre experience to warrant twice the ticket price.

And agreed on Quantum of Solace too. Opening scene edit was a little too fast, but overall a nice addition to the Bond franchise.

Steve 'Doc' Baty said...


I saw a family of four at the cinema yesterday. Must have cost them $200 to see the movie in the Gold Class theatre. That's probably three months of cable subscription in Sydney and I can't for the life of me believe they got good value yesterday.

The value of cable - particularly for sport and movie-watching - is leaps and bounds ahead of that provided by a cinema. And you can always scale it back if money is tight. Cinema-going is an all-or-nothing proposition.

Andrew Grimm said...

The only advantage I can see with cinema is location.

If you want to see a movie with friends, and you don't want them to know what a pigsty your place is, then cinema is the way to go.

Likewise, if you're on a first date, and you tell that person that you want to watch a movie at home, you'd get a raised eyebrow at the least.