- by Lloyd Bayer
Movies in this small federation situated in the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula are screened through two franchises, Cineplex and Grand cinemas mainly housed in huge shopping malls. Each mall houses anywhere between 8 to 12 cinema halls (including 01 IMAX), with an audience capacity ranging between 200-400 seats. As this is a franchise, refreshments are on par with the rest of the world (except for the Americas and Antarctica, I've seen movies in all other continents). Popcorn with a variety of flavors, sodas, nachos, and crepes you name it. Some cinemas here have exclusive GOLD class seating entitling the viewer to an airline-like business class stretched out seat complete with massager and infra-red heaters. Press a button on the arm rest, and an attendant arrives shortly with an illuminated (LCD) menu. The menu has everything from refreshments to a complete meal. The question however is whether the person enjoys the experience or the movie, as the price of a ticket is approx. US $23 compared with the ordinary seating of $9.
Either way, the movie experience here is world class, with state of the art sound from Dolby digital and the likes. There are no intermissions unless the screening spans three hours or more. All films screened have Arabic and French subtitles, French because the films are edited for content in Lebanon. Speaking of content, nudity and sex is censored, along with religious and political issues degrading to the Middle-East. Having said that, lately, films of this nature have been moderately tolerated. Films with a Middle-Eastern theme like Syriana and The Kingdom were widely received uncensored. So was The Passion of the Christ, during Easter week 2004. Schindler's List was however banned back in the day as it depicted the plight of Jews. While the topic of nudity is viewed differently by a wide cross section of nationalities residing in the UAE, it still remains censored in cinemas. However, premium satellite TV channels like Showtime boast uncensored content. Other R rated content like language, blood and gore, and drug usage remains fairly untouched.
Word around town is that the movie experience will be upped a few notches with plans of constructing huge screens for outdoor or drive-in cinemas where sound quality will depend largely on the viewer's automobile audio system. Plans are in place for an arena styled parking allowing SUVs and larger vehicles in the back with smaller cars accessing the front. Another development is the proposed doing away with film reels, thereby cutting out freight time and the middle man altogether. Films will be beamed digitally via satellite directly from the US to the projection room in full HD quality. Obviously, price of admittance is expected to go up once that happens. While the current price of 30 Dirhams (US$9) per admission seems affordable for most viewers, the general public would welcome discounts on special days like Australia's movie Tuesday. Special discounts for students, the disabled and senior citizens are yet to be discussed. Movie marathons are unheard of here as mall management feel that the long office hours coupled with traffic congestion commuting home may not have many people paying for three to four movies in advance.
As all over the world, box office sales are made from mainly university and high school patrons, while a good percentage is also raked in from the 30-40 year age groups.