Having spent much of Saturday parked on the couch watching the coronation – and much of that being sat on myself by two cats and a dog, occasionally all at once – Sunday seemed like a day to leave the house.
The weather was bad, however. What to do?
For the first time in what felt like years, I decided a trip to the cinema was just the thing. I would get up then bloody well sit down somewhere else.
A few hours later, beside my youngest daughter, I was munching popcorn and sipping cola, waiting for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 to begin.
As I crunched and slurped in the pre-film dark, I briefly allowed my eyes to close. It was so very black and so very peaceful, even as the rest of the audience – mostly excited teens – chattered and giggled and the adverts blared.
I had forgotten how much I love going to the pictures. What happened? Why had it been so long since my last trip?
The previous Guardians film was way back in 2017 and, although I’d been since, it wasn’t often. Perhaps lockdown broke the link – when real life began again, I had lost the habit. Like many people, I don’t go out as much as I used to in the BC (Before Covid) era.
What a shame. Like you, I suspect, I can map my life through big movies on the big screen. The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 (I was too young for the first Star Wars); Raiders of the Lost Ark in ’81; Ghostbusters in ’84.
There was 1988’s Die Hard, when I took a girl for the first time and, trying the old “yawn and slip your hand round her shoulders” wheeze, was rebuffed with a dry: “Really?” At Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in 1989, I recall having considerably more success.
As a young father, the cinema was both an escape and a lifesaver – a blissful two hours of distraction and rest, even if you had a wriggling four-year-old on your knee for much of the time. I can see our daughters growing and ageing through the Toy Story series and the Shrek and Ice Age movies, and remember the fanatical obsessions with Finding Nemo and How to Train Your Dragon, the house a trip hazard of spin-off furry animals and monsters.
Now, here I was, the last child beside me. We had gone to see the first Guardians film in 2014, when she was a squirming toddler. On Sunday, a hulking, sarcastic 13-year-old sat with her hood up, smiling indulgently at me when I turned to her during the funny bits. Like my journalistic deadlines, the time just goes whooshing past.
We’ve become a streaming society
These are not great times for cinemas. Cineworld is struggling to keep many of its venues open due to the post-Covid fall in attendance. Last year saw the closure of Edinburgh’s Filmhouse cinema and cafe bar and Aberdeen’s Belmont Filmhouse, due to soaring costs and the drop in audience numbers.
Although attendance in the UK and the EU increased by 63% in 2022, with 643 million tickets sold, admissions were still 34.5% below that of the 2017-2019 average. The decline looks structural.
And, today, we are, of course, a streaming society. The global popularity of these services gives us access to expensively-made films and series at home – Netflix reputedly spent $200 million on both Red Notice and The Gray Man last year, each starring one of the Hollywood Ryans (like Ant and Dec, I’ve never quite nailed which is which). We have giant TVs and Amazon Prime and Deliveroo, and can enjoy something like the Hollywood experience without leaving the living room.
The silver screen retains a communal magic
Only something like, though… Guardians of the Galaxy is one of Marvel’s marvels, which – unlike the diminishing returns from their other endless superhero franchises – they’ve promised to bring to a stop with this third film. I hope the studio bosses keep to their word. Left as it is, Guardians is a perfect trilogy arc of sharp writing, glorious gags, deep character development and spectacular sci-fi effects.
On Sunday, I found myself wet-eyed at the backstory of a gun-toting, CGI raccoon, while cheering the ESP abilities of an astronaut-suited, Russian-accented golden retriever. Like Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, I fell a bit in love with an unpleasant, green-skinned mercenary and her bald, blue, part-cyborg sister – “I just never noticed how black your eyes were.” “They were replaced by my father as a method of torture.” “He picked a pretty set.”
The looks and exchanges people share once the lights come up are comfortingly predictable
There is still something irreplaceable about enjoying these experiences in a large space full of strangers who are all feeling the same emotions – laughter, sadness, tension, relief – at exactly the same moment you do. The looks and exchanges people share once the lights come up are comfortingly predictable – “wasn’t that brilliant?”; “which was your favourite bit?”; “they have to make another one!”
The silver screen retains a communal magic that the living room will always lack. In the car on the way home, the 13-year-old even put her hood down and asked which had been my favourite bit.
Chris Deerin is a leading journalist and commentator who heads independent, non-party think tank, Reform Scotland