Why is it that an airport terminal is now a more exhilarating place to hang out than a multiplex cinema? Those vast, cavernous entrance halls are devoid of anything resembling personality, with featureless ticket-checking zones, blank-looking staff dressed in garish uniforms and a faint smell of disinfectant. Then there are airports, which are a surprisingly similar ball game. Yep, the multiplex cinema has lost its soul, if indeed it ever had one.
But I’m serious about the airport comparison. Think about it. You arrive at the terminal with a sense of excitement and anticipation about your journey, which is a feeling that the multiplex has a hard time mustering these days. Asking a cinema usher for a plot synopsis can often be a step too far, but ask an airport staffer which check-in desk deals with flights to Spain and they’re unlikely to reply “Spain? I’m sorry I don’t know what that is.”
Pass through security at the airport and the anticipation continues. Did I accidentally pack Something Massively Illegal in my hand luggage? Is my belt buckle going to set off all the alarms and infuriate a policeman with an itchy trigger finger? In your mind there’s endless potential for unplanned drama.
When you reach the departure lounge you have a choice of cheaper, duty-free goods and, crucially, a whole bunch of departure gates all going to different places and offering unique experiences. Plus, long-haul flights offer a comprehensive library of Every Film Ever Made mere inches from your face.
The multiplex cinema experience is slightly different but not necessarily in a good way. Prices are all jacked up on the snacks stall and although there are plenty of departure gates (call them ‘screens’, if you will), most of them lead to predictably similar, marginally disappointing three-star experiences.
Given that cinema’s capable of delivering such spectacular wonder, the fact that the multiplex can be compared to an airport terminal on any level – nobody’s ever likely to have an ‘inspiring’ airport experience – is a depressing sign of the times. It wouldn’t surprise me if an evil Studio Boss somewhere in Hollywood saw this coming and was careful to kidnap the Multiplex Soul right about the time that Dances with Wolves beat GoodFellas to the Best Picture Oscar.
Studio Boss – who most likely was the inspiration behind Star Wars‘ Emperor Palpatine – will lead his Young Apprentice down to the recesses of the Studio basement where the swirling ball of fire that is the Multiplex Soul has been imprisoned for so long.
“This, My Young Apprentice, is the Multiplex Soul. If we let it out there will be no multiplex cinemas and where would we be then? There would be Calamity! Smaller, independent cinemas would spread like a sinister viral infection across the world, with their petit sense of history, period architecture and passionate appreciation for filmmaking of all budgets.
“Imagine if Joe Cinema Goer were struck by the elegant beauty of an historic auditorium before the film started – it would only prove a distraction and make it harder to suck them into the Multiplex Machine.
“Do you really think audiences want diversity and options when they go to the cinema? I think not! They need to be gently reminded that the biggest, most expensive movies of the week are the ones that most deserve their business. Naturally, the best way to secure support for these films is if the competition simply doesn’t show up! Giving the multiplex back its Soul just means everyone gets hung up on the little people; the low-budget stuff that has an outside chance of winning Best Original Screenplay. They need to understand there’s an order to these things, right?
“Come, My Young Apprentice! This is our time! I sense you’re concerned about the annoying little indie picture houses… Six words: Wipe them out; all of them!”