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31 December, 2005

Screening out the provincial

Okay; I was wrong.

I've been critical of multiplex cinemas in the past, as being generally unpleasant and inferior to one-screen cinemas.

Morecambe's multiplex, the Apollo, has four screens, whilst the very traditional Regal in Lancaster has two and The Dukes has one. However, whilst The Dukes' is apparently the largest screen north of Manchester and the Regal's are of the standard size, the Apollo's are drastically smaller; from the usual viewing distance each is no more impressive than a large TV. The seats are uncomfortable and packed too close together, and the limited floor space is always sticky, presumably due to spilled popcorn and drinks. Even if they're not carelessly throwing refreshments around, multiplex audiences annoyingly rustle bags of sweets throughout films (a general question: silent packaging must exist – why don't cinemas use it?). I don't especially blame the people themselves, as their behaviour is a product of the environment. Stuffing oneself with empty calories is simply the done thing and I suspect that for some people popcorn is as integral to the cinema experience as whatever film happens to be showing.
In short, I prefer to wait for films to reach The Dukes (big screen, better seats, no food/soft drinks permitted), the Regal (reasonable screens, acceptable seats, minimal junk food-related disturbance) or failing that, to be released on DVD. Watching a film in a multiplex is very much the last resort.

Or so I thought.

It seems embarrassingly obvious now, but a multiplex in a dump like Morecambe is hardly a fair representation of the best that can be achieved, or even the baseline standard, back in civilisation. Last night, I saw 'The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe' at a real multiplex, in the Cheshire Oaks retail park, Ellesmere Port. It couldn't have been more different. There were eight cinemas, and perhaps we were in the largest (I doubt it), but the screen was full-sized, the seats were comfortable and well-spaced, and even sat slightly off to one side I experienced true surround sound (I don't know whether I ever have before). There was still a bit of audience rustling (heh), but somehow it wasn't too obtrusive.
The sole negative point was that admission cost almost double what I'd usually pay in Lancaster, though the experience wasn't doubly enjoyable i.e. I still prefer to see a film in the relatively austere Dukes for £3.50 than in the sumptuous Cheshire Oaks Vue for £6.45.

Whatever; I'm pleased to retract one of my prejudices!

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