Talking Movies

March 31, 2011

To the Lighthouse?

The court-case winding up the Lighthouse cinema has been adjourned until April 15th; but will it be mere stay of execution, as in the case of the Sunday Tribune, or a commutation of the sentence?

Last autumn I complained about Cineworld busting thru the psychological 10 euro mark for ticket prices. The Lighthouse was one of the cheapest cinemas that I listed in a price comparison of my regular haunts, but it was never a particularly frequent haunt of mine. Sure, I enjoyed seeing Let the Right One In, Moon, and Mesrine: Public Enemy No 1 there, but most of my trips to Smithfield were for press screenings. That’s because of the cinemas I frequent (Savoy, Screen, IFI, Cineworld, Dundrum, Ormonde) the Lighthouse is the furthest away from my suburban southside lair, and the hardest to get to as well: no direct bus link and a 20 minute walk between Luas lines. It was an impractical cinema to get to for a lot of Southsiders who weren’t near the Red line, and no doubt, like me, they were happy to stick with the IFI. Which is a pity as the Lighthouse is a gorgeous cinema aesthetically; even features that shouldn’t work, such as the quirky multi-coloured seats in one screen, do work, making it a notably comfortable cinema experience with a great atmosphere because it has its own distinct and loveably eccentric personality.

But its physical personality rather dwarfs its cinematic personality. It’s great at screening films long after their IFI run has ceased, witness Of Gods and Men running there since Christmas and Animal Kingdom still playing, and their regular re-releases such as The Godfather and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes have been excellent. But the Lighthouse didn’t really stand out as much as it would’ve if it had opened in 2002. The question which the existence of the Lighthouse always begged must now be asked – are there too many art-house cinemas in Dublin? To appropriate the language of politics, where Battle: Los Angeles is Sarah Palin and Submarine is Ralph Nader, just how big is the left-leaning vote? Since the explosion in the number of its screens in 2003, when it took over the adjoining IMAX, Cineworld has screened a huge amount of foreign films and American indie productions that would previously have only played at the IFI. This has pushed the IFI to the left of centre, witness Inception last year playing at the Savoy, Cineworld, and the IFI simultaneously. All too often the Lighthouse, Cineworld, Screen and IFI are redoubtably running the same films at the same times. Given that art-house cinema is a niche to start, can it really be fragmented across four city-centre cinemas and remain a profitable niche?

The dimming of the Lighthouse’s beacon of intelligent cinema would be lamentable, but if the economic logic is against it, it’s inevitable.

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September 17, 2010

The Psychological 10 Euro Mark

I was stunned to discover this week that Cineworld have broken through the psychological 10 euro mark for cinema tickets…

Obviously this is not news to most people as this is something that happened some time ago but I haven’t been to Cineworld at night for a very long time; I think the last movie I actually saw there was Mesrine: Killer Instinct in a cheap morning show; so it’s a fresh shock to my system. Not least because the cinemas which make up my usual venues – Savoy (9.00), the Screen (9.00), the IFI (9.20), Movies at Dundrum (9.90), the Ormonde (9.00), and the Lighthouse (9.00) – are all still selling their tickets under the 10 euro mark. I’m not sure exactly why Cineworld (10.50) have chosen to bust through it with such brio when all the other cinemas that I regularly venture out to from my suburban southside lair seem to regard it as a threshold to be passed over with great reluctance.

I think the reason why it’s such a psychological barrier is not purely to do with inflation or our newly re-found grasp of the concept of value for money; I can vividly remember when you could go to the Savoy on Saturday night and still have change for a nice junk-food meal in Supermacs from a 10 pound note. I think that the cinemas are just terrified at hitting the dreaded ‘two for the price of one’ figure. If you have to pay more than 10 euro for a film ticket you will start questioning more keenly not just the quality of the film in question but more generally whether it’s actually worth going out at all when you could pop into Chartbusters and pick up two new releases for 6 euro. Admittedly Chartbusters’ well publicised financial problems are the reason they’re so cheap at the moment but even Xtravision’s new releases get perilously close to 2 for 1 compared to a 10 euro plus film ticket.

The more paranoid interpretation is that cinemas are holding prices under the mark to make people less outraged than they should be over the premium charged for 3-D tickets. This premium has allowed Hollywood to make more money this year, with bad films in 3-D, than last year, where films were better attended but only in 2-D. Roger Ebert has cynically predicted that the premium on 3-D tickets, justified as necessary to pay the charges associated with conversion of cinemas to digital projectors, will in fact become embedded forever in the pricing structure long after every cinema is converted and all possible costs have been paid. In which case we could expect that the ‘two for the price of one’ figure would come into play in a new and interesting way as punters would weigh up with every trip to the cinema whether two 2-D films are worth the price of one 3-D film. If the answer to that question isn’t to Hollywood’s liking it may mean the end of gimmickry and a belated return to quality scripts as the answer to the problem of how to get people in theatres.

Meantime, I’ll be interested to see which of my regular haunts joins Cineworld in the brave new world of handing over a twenty-euro note to get change for one primetime film ticket…

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