Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherds Bush, on Black Friday. Whoops.
It didn’t occur to me when I booked my ticket. I had to be out west later to see a band, I had time to see a film first, there’s a cinema in this hideous place: fine, I’ll tolerate it. Little did I realise I’d encounter a battalion of rabid consumers surging towards me in waves with their unlimited boxes of trainers, always bloody trainers.
Still, not even people soon to realise that bargain Converse won’t fill the hole in their soul can ruin one of my favourite experiences – going to the pictures. That honour instead falls to the Vue cinema chain.
Let me run you through what turned out to be an entirely typical visit to a Vue cinema.
It begins, as all trips to the cinema must, with an urgent need to rid myself of the couple of pints I’ve managed to jam into the 20 minutes since I left the office. There are no signs for a gents anywhere, so I ask. They’re where the screens are and you need a ticket to use them because the last thing they want is the freaks of this evil shopping centre pissing up and down their gleaming cubicles. My ticket is on my phone and I spend 45 seconds fumbling about with the device in one hand and my bulging urethra in the other.
Being a greedy bastard I quite like to enjoy a trip to the cinema with a packet of Minstrels – not Maltesers, not M&Ms and certainly not popcorn you fucking savages, but Minstrels. I’m also thirsty, and here’s where the real fun begins.
I’ll have a small Sprite with no ice please. I don’t think you fucking will mate.
The woman in the silly hat squints at me, perplexed. “I don’t think we…I’ll have to check, hang on.” There are, of course, drink dispensers on the counter, some of them bearing the word ‘Sprite’. She’s back saying they only have Sprite Zero; this is fine. She tells me there’s no cash in her till; that’s all right, I’ll pay by card.
She is getting increasingly flustered by my complicated request. Eventually, this: “Sorry, we only do freestyle now.”
The moment this woman transfers her incomprehension to me by some monstrous millennial mental process is the moment my patience runs out. “No, sorry, I don’t know what that means – explain it to me” and in one swift parry the bafflement is back with her. Surely the clue is in the name, ‘freestyle’. Our drinks are freestyle. How hard can it be to understand? Piss off away from my counter now and freestyle yourself a drink somehow.
It’s left to a customer on the next counter to explain that this means I have to pay somewhere, find a cup somewhere and find a machine to fill it myself, apparently as often as I like, which will obviously be only once because my prime goal here is not to spend the next two hours ferrying fizzy pop between a drink dispenser and your covert urinals. Instead I get a can of orange San Pellegrino for a ring-stinging £2.09 and walk away before someone gets hurt.
My film is showing on Screen 15. This screen is curiously separated from the other 19 in this cinema, and it has its own door. A locked door, with no attendant anywhere nearby.
Back to the freestyle witch I go. Again she looks at me as though I’ve lost my mind, though with little comprehension of how she’s contributing to that. “You need to ask them at Ben and Jerry’s?” she apparently asks me. Well of course I do.
The ice-cream outlet is close to Screen 15 and has a large queue of fat fidgeting fucks after a pail of Caramel Chew Chew or some similar slop. They don’t look like they’ll appreciate me tearing the sole Ben and Jerry’s employee away from his duties at the muck aperture. They look like they will eat me if I try.
Thankfully at that moment a group of four people appear at the door of Screen 15, tug at it and groan as one. I tell them we need to get this Ben or Jerry to open it. Together we are strong. The huffing ice-cream queue fumes as the portal to cinematic delight is finally unlocked.
And so to the experience of watching a film at a Vue cinema. Only it’s not a cinema, is it? It’s a race track, a legendary opera house, the festival of all festivals, life in the front row, a season finale, live from Broadway, passion, spirit, energy, pain and glory, and big screen sports/opera/music/theatre/dance/TV/comedy/gaming/innovation/knowledge/entertainment. So says the 1 minute and 28 seconds of advert for…Vue cinemas. That Vue shows me when I’m already in a fucking Vue cinema.
Do Vue have any idea how people choose a cinema? They look up a film they’re keen on, to see when and where is most convenient to them. Though I’ve never seen a film in two cinemas at once I can be fairly sure each screening shows the same thing. I don’t choose Vue because it’s not a cinema; I choose it precisely because it is a bloody cinema, that happens to be where I need it to be when I need it to be there.
Mercifully the film trailers are now upon us. We’re told they’re appropriate to the film we’re due to watch today, despite the appealing idea of expanding young horizons by showing trailers for the next Eli Roth rape-based comedy-slasher just before Frozen 2. What no cinema chain can be blamed for, not even Vue, is a terrifying trailer for the forthcoming Cats movie. I shat myself less watching Nightmare on Elm Street aged nine.
But what I can and will blame Vue for is what comes after the trailers – the crowning glory of their pre-film experience. For 1 minute and 41 seconds, we’re given an array of spectacular visuals and sounds to enable us to fully appreciate how lucky we are to ‘Experience Dolby Audio’ and ‘Discover Sony 4K’.
Nothing in the history of recording has made me angrier than this ‘ident’, except maybe Bruce Almighty. Unless I leave now, forfeiting my nearly £20 to see a film in this ghastly place, I will be subjected to these things without you spending 101 seconds telling me about it. I thought I was done with Dolby the last time it was 1984 and my Dad dragged me round Tandy in Bracknell looking for a twin tape deck with both noise reduction systems B and C, but it turns out there are still horrors to be wrung from a brand I thought went out with spandex and the mullet.
Finally, the BBFC rating is here with its tantalising promise of brief bloody images, moderate sex and suicide references, and strong language of the like I’ve not heard since I had to watch that fucking Dolby nonsense. We are 31 minutes after the start time listed for this film, a figure that Vue has allowed to creep upwards for the last couple of years while the venerable Odeon chain sticks to a fairly dependable 20 minutes or so. Other chains are available, as are the type of tiny independent cinema that wants you to watch a film drinking prosecco on a futon because you’re a cunt.
And still I go back to these bastards, because a convenient film time and place remain the sole criteria and there’s Vues all over the damn place. And still I go in too early, because traditional old fool that I am I do love watching the trailers.
But my willingness to endure Vue is shaken by every beat of Dolby’s surround sound speakers with impressive bass level and NO I’m not getting sucked in. Hide your toilets and give your keys to the ice-cream man but I’ll not let you ruin cinema-going for me. Stop advertising things I’ve already said yes to and tell your imbecile staff that we don’t all emerge from the womb with in-depth knowledge of how drinks will work in the 22nd century.
Black Friday at Screen 15. In terms of decision-making it’s on a par with Market Garden.
The film was a pile of shite too.