We went to one of those new luxury cinema lounges the other day; the type where you sit back in a leather recliner while waitresses bring you food. I can’t remember the movie but the steak sandwich was to die for.
Having largely got past the kissing-in-the-back-row stage, we put quite a premium on a comfy chair, a good screen and luxurious snacks. Where once we’d scan the film schedules for a Palme d’Or winner or a Sundance contender, now we look for a good brownie or a kitemark from the British Lumbago Association.
This is the future. You can stick up as many Ray Winstone adverts as you want, telling me I go to the movies for the experience; actually these days I go for the lattes, the biscotti and the New Zealand sauvignon. The onset of piracy, large-screen TVs and the reduced lag on rental release has hammered the movie business; well, that and the generally abysmal, derivative offerings; oh and extortionate price of a Coke; and the cost of a babysitter. Even the now ubiquitous 3D movie that was meant to save cinema can now be replicated in the home – for those who want more depth to George Clooney’s eyebrows and don’t mind wearing specs so large that they are left sitting in their front room looking like Elton John. The young will always go on dates but for older audiences, especially those with kids, the alternatives are just too convenient to ignore, especially when you can get a monthly Netflix subscription for the price of a tub of popcorn.
So, sensibly, cinemas are working on the broader experience, not merely good screens and high-quality sound but also a sense of luxury – the your-own-private-movie-theatre experience. And it does appeal. It must do, otherwise why would I have paid twice the normal cost of a seat for our leather chairs in a cinema in a west London shopping mall. Once settled in our Parker Knoll recliners, we were offered a tasty three-course menu (by our own Rowley Leigh, no less) whose unifying principle seemed to be that all the items required only one item of cutlery. To minimise noise, it was a meal without knives. The food arrived and was placed on a tray built into the arm of the chair and which could be rotated round over our laps. It was very well executed and the waiters were remarkably unobtrusive. In fact, it was rather like sitting in a business-class seat on an aeroplane but without a queue for the toilets and no one trying to sell you duty free. Also there were no messages from the projectionist: “Good evening ladies and gentleman, we’ve now reached the midpoint of the movie. If you look straight ahead, you’ll see Angelina Jolie’s famed right leg. We’ve switched the no-eating sign on for the next five minutes as there’s a pretty scary scene coming and we don’t want any hot coffee in your lap.”
You can see the logic of the concept and these luxury picture houses are becoming increasingly common but a line needs to be drawn and drawn short of a full meal in your chair. While business class is great on a plane; in a cinema what we are talking about is a glorified TV dinner. Seriously, if I want to slump in a chair, eat with my fingers and spill breadcrumbs over myself, I can do it at home and save the money. Paying extra for a nice cinema with a good seat makes sense; but if you are paying restaurant prices for a meal you should – as Ray would say – get the restaurant experience; the full, sitting gazing into each other’s eyes and talking shtick. On the other hand, it may be great for couples that have run out of things to say to each other.
But I may be out on my own on this; cinema plus may be the future. Forthcoming variations might include a Thai scalp massage while you watch; or perhaps there are even more airline innovations to come: a limo to the cinema, a complimentary washbag; and most important a long queue of ordinary economy cinema goers to file smugly past on your way in.
Good evening, and thank you for flying Air Odeon; we hope you enjoy the show.