I spend as much time in cinemas as I can. I’m happy to watch a film on my phone, but there is a magic to going into the darkened room and being totally submerged in the experience of the story. I can only remember a handful of cinema experiences in my whole life that I haven’t enjoyed – Aliens, because I was too young, An Angel at my Table, because I was too young, and Heavenly Creatures, because I was on a date and it was the least date-friendly movie we could possibly have picked.
But not all cinemas are created equal. My needs are simple. I want to see the picture rather than my neighbour’s head, I want the image to be in focus and the right ratio, I want to hear the sound clearly, I’d like my seat to be comfortable, and I want the other cinema goers to laugh or scream as appropriate and otherwise shut up. It seems obvious to me that the majority of cinema designers have absolutely no idea what makes a viewing experience good or bad, they’re just interested in a kind of logistical puzzle of how to maximise profit per floor area and assume that people will turn up if the films are good, regardless of the condition of the space. That was certainly true in Wellington until Reading Courtenay Central opened, with it’s big spacious seats, great viewing angles, good sound and competitive pricing. Hoyts in Wellington collapsed like a house of cards, but astonishingly, all the independent cinemas closed and refurbished to up their game, so that while Reading remains big and successful, Wellington supports 6 independent cinemas in direct competition with it. Of course, the NZIFF plays a big role in that victory, my understanding is that a couple of the lesser independents basically just hang on between festivals.
A good cinema isn’t just a black box, it’s a destination. Reading Courtenay hit all the basic requirements perfectly solidly, but it’s just another chain outlet at the end of the day. The best cinemas have a life and character of their own, making them the kind of place you’d go even if there wasn’t actually a movie to see. Obviously the very best cinemas combine the perfect viewing experience with a sense of occasion. We’ll get back to reviewing films soon, but for the start of the year I want to tell you about my favourite cinemas. Unfortunately, they’re all concentrated in a few places. I know commenting is unfashionable in this day and age, but I’d love to have your comments on cinemas I should go to when I travel. Where is the best place to go and see a movie?