The film industry finds itself with an urgent – but hopefully not impossible – mission. The goal is to save cinema itself, or at least the physical act of leaving your house and going to the pictures. After a year of mothballed multiplexes, the expansion of video-on-demand is an encroaching and possibly existential threat. So ahead of screens reopening in the UK this week, Hollywood has been doing what it does best: cranking up some hype.
First came a special trailer for Fast and Furious 9, the latest instalment in the OTT series that combines spectacular car crashes with an unabashed streak of sentimentality. We see star Vin Diesel revving down a lonesome road before he gets philosophical. “For more than 100 years there’s a place where we all came together to be entertained, to escape, to go someplace new…” A meaningful pause, then Diesel spreads his beefy arms before deploying his best Iron Giant rumble: “THE MOVIES.” Like the franchise, it is oddly endearing.
A few days later, Marvel Studios – a prolific and hugely profitable division of Disney – joined the effort with a three-minute sizzle reel of superhero action reminding us what it was like “to feel connected” and “to share moments we will remember forever” in crowded cinemas. That call to action was paired with a stacked timetable of new Marvel releases until 2023 and beyond. Who better to rescue the theatrical experience than the next wave of Avengers?
The danger is in glorifying the communal cinema experience via sense-shattering blockbusters alone
These promotional efforts are earnest and self-regarding, but they have a point. Cinema chains with vast screens and sound systems capable of making your internal organs vibrate require these sorts of blockbusters to survive and potentially thrive. Once vaccinated you can bet I will be lining up to see Fast 9 in IMAX, as well as upcoming spectacles like the sweeping sci-fi epic Dune and supersonic sequel Top Gun: Maverick. After a year fumbling for a soundbar remote control and burning microwave popcorn, my craving for immersive Hollywood maximalism has been rekindled. Even James Cameron spending a decade working on four Avatar sequels is starting to sound like a good idea.
The danger is in glorifying the communal cinema experience via sense-shattering blockbusters alone. Fast 9 may end up being remembered as the movie that turbo-charged a wider industry recovery but I am convinced many moviegoers are just as excited about their local arthouse cinema reopening. In the coming weeks, award contenders that debuted on streaming get physical screenings: features like the gritty Nomadland, the wondrous immigrant story Minari, the deeply resonant Sound of Metal and the moving period drama Ammonite. Each features moments of joy and pain that will be amplified and made memorable by being experienced in a darkened room shared with strangers. We should all be grateful for streaming’s conveniences but I cannot wait to safely get back to that semi-sacred place where films belong.