Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Long Dark Knight

After doing what I had to do in town earlier than expected, I thought it would be a wheeze to skive off and finally see The Dark Knight at the Odeon Leicester Square. Boy, was that a big fucking mistake! Where do I start, the film or the cinema?

I used to love the Leicester Square cinemas. It’s where I’d bunk off to when escaping the bullshit sluicing through The Esteemed School of Art. The screens were huge, the sound systems pin-sharp, and afternoon performances actually were half price rather than just the odd couple of quid knocked off. And the popcorn didn’t taste like someone had sicked up all over it.

While the screens at the Odeon Leicester Square and Empire are still big, the Odeon West End – where I once sat through the original Star Wars trilogy and only fell asleep three times – has been sliced in two. The transformation of what was the wonderful old Warner West End is the biggest travesty. It was the first cinema I ever went to in London. The evening before my interview for TESA I caught a 70mm print of The Right Stuff. Now it’s the loathsome plastic multiplex Vue with the shoe box-sized auditoriums.

In terms of sound quality, I was happy with the introduction of THX. That was always good enough, right? But since the early 1990s we’ve been treated to DTS (Digital Theater System) and SDDS (Sony Dynamic Digital Sound). These multi-channel formats seem to be absolutely peachy for dumb summer movies blasting out big, rumbling sound effects that leave our ears bleeding. The problem is when you want to hear what the fucking actors up on screen are saying.

For most of The Dark Knight I was straining to catch the dialogue and as for the big speech at the end, I just about heard the last two words. As long as they were “dark” and “knight”, that is. There were times when sequences were accompanied by long hissing noises, but that might have been part of the soundtrack. I’d seen Iron Man at the same cinema only a couple months back and heard every word. So the problem may have not been with the sound mix itself but the cocktard in the projection booth setting the levels incorrectly.

That actually wouldn’t surprise me, because one thing that’s seriously putting me off going to the cinema nowadays is the moronic staff. How did the management hire them? Did the small ad read: “Fuckwits with no people skills required”? The couple of muppets working the box office were so incompetent that some middle management stooge came out and told everyone in line that we could use the Odeon Mezzanine box office as well if we hoped to get indoors before the film started.

You know, you give them money, they give you a ticket in return. Is that difficult? Okay the customer has to decide where they want to sit, but this was the first screening of the day. Assigned seating is a great idea because it stops it turning into a bun fight, but this was early afternoon. There was no way the auditorium was going to fill up so in this instance why not simply take the money and let the audience sit wherever the cockety-fuck they like.

Which brings us to the ushers. Or rather the one particular usher who looked like he would have preferred have us building a stretch of the Burma railroad. He was a pernickety sonofabitch. It was only when the latecomers were arriving that he started hauling people out for being in the wrong seat. if it happened during the commercials, that would have been fine – I just sat there, marvelling at the screen, thinking to myself: when did cinema advertising become so fucking shit?

Instead, Mr Arse-wipe Odeon had to start acting like a stiff prick during the trailers; more specifically the trailer for Quantum of Solace. I didn’t take too kindly to having goofs standing in my way while that was playing, so I told them to fuck off and find somewhere else to sit. That was a pretty clear instruction, and one easy to follow, but the usher was waving his damn torch about and they stumbled in and out of the row of seats looking utterly bewildered.

The guys hauled out into the aisle for being in the wrong place went looking for somewhere else to sit. The usher trotted after them, yacking about some damn thing until one of the chaps stopped in his tracks, turned to the usher, and told him, in no uncertain terms, to simply keep away from him. The usher retreated while they found new seats. Then the usher came back with someone from management. When they eventually found the guys there was a brief exchange before the man from management apologised and escorted the usher from the auditorium.

By then it was finally time for the film to start. There were some really nice touches, like the camera swaying while The Joker escaped in the back of the police car as if everything had lost control. But... It went about three moral dilemmas too far. By the point it got to the boats I was whimpering at the screen: “for the love of God, please fucking finish!”


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