I visited the movie theater for the first time in five months — and as an avid movie-goer, it felt like an age.
Now theaters have reopened in the UK, I went as soon as I could to see “Jurassic Park” on the big screen with my mom.
The theater I visited had a lot of social distancing rules in place, including e-tickets only, and their new practice of leaving a minimum of two empty seats between occupied seats in their screens.
While the lobby was almost empty, food and drink were served as normal, and people adhered to the “wear a mask” rule until they got in the cinema screen and took them off.
Seeing “Jurassic Park” in 4DX and going all out with food, drinks, and popcorn, reminded me and fellow cinema-goers how much we love the experience of going to a cinema — and I’ve booked my next trip already.
The last movie I saw in a theater was an awards screener of “Little Women” way back in February, a few weeks before the Oscars. The last time I paid to see movie in a theater, here in the UK, was on January 1 to see “The Gentlemen.”
Before that, I used to go to the movies a few times a month, or as much as I could fit in. But the coronavirus-caused lockdown that kicked in, in March put a halt to that habit. While there are far more important things currently happening and far more serious issues that has come with the coronavirus, it has been a full five months since I last sat in a cinema screen to watch a film. And it’s sucked.
I caught both “The Invisible Woman” and “Scoob” on VoD (one was excellent, one was not) — but it’s just not the same. I’ve missed the intimacy of a theater, which drowns out everything except the story unfolding on the gigantic screen in front as you sit in darkness munching popcorn.
That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to get back to the cinema the first chance I got. Cineworld in Crawley, a town halfway between London and Brighton in the UK, opened its doors again in late July, and on Friday, July 31, I took my mom to see “Jurassic Park” on the big screen.
There had to be a minimum of two empty seats next to occupied seats
Firstly, I booked tickets online. Cineworld has said that while they are still selling tickets in theaters, customers are strongly encouraged to pre-book tickets online via their website or app.
This is for two reasons. One — so there is as little exchange of materials and contact as possible. Two — so that customers can pick their seats before they arrive at the cinema and get blindsided by the new seating strategy.
When it comes to selecting a seat, their website states: “To ensure Social Distancing, we require a minimum of 2 empty seats next to any occupied seats. If you select closer seats, the booking system will return an error on the next page.”
This means that around half of the seats were unavailable in the cinema screen, and meant that if you didn’t book fast enough, you’d be stuck right in the wings of the theater.
Staggered show times kept the lobby quiet, but social distancing signs were ignored
There was a bit of a queue outside the theater, with a masked employee chaperoning people in; telling them the rules of the cinema, and to put masks on. There was also a sign welcoming customers back, laying all of the social distancing rules out.
There was also a hand-sanitizing station, too, with a foot-pump-powered soap dispenser.
Once inside, however, the usually-bristling lobby was empty. The staggered film times purposefully scheduled by Cineworld meant that the lobby would be emptier than usual, but it was still strange to be there on a Friday and be able to hear your own footsteps echo across the room.
One protocol that employees pointed out were stickers on the floor indicating where to stand for social distanced queuing — this was almost entirely ignored by customers, partly because people didn’t realize they were even there under the lights of the lobby, but mostly because queuing wasn’t really necessary at all due to the tiny number of people in the room.
Food and drink were served normally, apart from the typical British pick ‘n’ mix
Almost all food and drink were served normally. Popcorn, packets of candy, ice cream, hot food, drinks — all available. They were served through large, transparent plastic screens separating masked-employees from masked-customers.
The only food product not available was the typical British pick ‘n’ mix candy stand — an assortment of treats that customers can scoop into a paper bag. All candy had been removed, and the section was cordoned off. A pick ‘n’ mix would be too much trouble to sanitise each lid and each scoop after every use.
Pretty much every customer I saw in the cinema bought food and beverages (including me). People were going all out. Most not only bought a drink popcorn, but ice cream, too, a slushie, and a bag of candy.
Bathrooms were limited to 4 people at a time
Only four people were allowed into the bathrooms at any one time. In the men’s bathroom, all cubicles were locked, while every other urinal was also out of use, with signs above asking customers not to use them.
Likewise, every other sink was also out of use, with signs on the mirrors above them asking customers not to use them.
Once you’d got your food and drink, you went to a ticket checker, who would ask for your e-tickets on your phone. They then scanned the tickets and directed you to the right screen. Several customers wondered out loud whether or not Cineworld would bother ever going back to paper tickets.
Everyone wore masks in the lobby, but took them off as soon as they were in the theater
Happily, every customer in the lobby obeyed the mask-wearing protocols of the cinema. There were no people arguing against it or complaining. Everyone kept their masks on as soon as they stepped into the lobby.
However, as soon we got into the cinema screen itself, everyone took off their masks. People had food and drink to consume, so they had to take the masks off, but it begged the question as to why enforce it in the lobby if everyone then removes them in the theater?
Even when people had finished their products, they kept their masks off for the whole film.
Old movies are the way to go
Almost all of the movies shown at Cineworld were old movies brought back in for reshowing. There were a couple of new films — Russel Crowe’s “Unhinged,” for example — but the majority were old movies. And it was the old movies that, when looking online, seemed to have the most interest.
I saw “Jurassic Park” with my mother — both of us have seen the film a billion times before, and as a family we used to watch it constantly when I was growing up, but neither of us had seen it in a cinema screen before. Seeing a movie like this, which had a lot of nostalgic childhood memories attached to it, was actually quite an emotionally-fulfiling experience.
My family and I are such huge fans of “Jurassic Park,” that we even went to Florida last year to explore Jurassic Park in Universal Studios.
They were plenty of adults taking their children to see “Jurassic Park” for the first time, excited at the opportunity to show their kids this movie on the big screen when they had previously done so before back in 1993.
To finally see this film on the big screen was a very exciting experience — and it proves that every single movie, no matter how many times you’ve seen it, is always better on a big screen.
Some people put their masks back on after the movie, but not everyone
People should have remained in their seats after the film had finished, then put their masks on and left. This didn’t really happen. Instead, most people moseyed out of the theater still pulling their masks on as they spilled out into the lobby. Some had to be reminded by staff.
After that, we were chaperoned out of the cinema via a one-way system. Masks were taken off immediately as soon as they were outside. In total, masks were worn for about five minutes before the movie, and about 30 seconds after.
I’ve already booked my next ticket
While streaming services have excelled during the last few months while everyone is stuck at home with nothing to do but binge TV shows and movies on Netflix and Disney Plus and the like, I hope that people felt the same as I did, and remembered how good going to the cinema is.
Movies are made for the cinema, and the thrill of sitting in a dark theater waiting for the opening titles to begin on a wall-to-wall screen will always be better than the convenience of streaming sites. In fact, I’ve already booked my next trip to the cinema.
I’m going to see “The Empire Strikes Back,” this time by myself, but it could just as easily be “The Cinema Strikes Back.”