There’s nothing more boring than hearing critics moan about their job. It is a job most people would jump at. Sitting on your backside and watching all the new films for free? And you sometimes get complimentary hot and cold drinks and even croissants and crisps? Get outta here!
However, it’s becoming less and less enviable, thanks to piracy paranoia. And since I am a rare critic who prefers to pay to see a film at the cinema – assuming there’s no urgency for an advance review – I hope you will allow me this … observation. In the past week I’ve received two invites to advance screenings of major blockbusters due for release before Christmas and I can’t comfortably attend either for the most mundane reasons.
Now, the issue of piracy is a very grave one for film companies in the digital age, and you can only sympathise as they try and shore up their profits by treating pre-release screenings as a piracy free-for-all unless otherwise advised. Especially a “multi-media screening”, as both of these are, which is generally held in an actual cinema, its auditiorium packed not just with trustworthy professional critics who presumably despise piracy, but also their plus-ones, and plus-twos, and plus-threes, welcome in order to create a conducive atmosphere. (Family films are traditionally held on Sunday mornings and feature untold delights for the kids; after all, what’s the point in seeing a kids’ film without the merry squeals of kids?)
We reviewers are well used to increased security so that interlopers don’t secretly film the film and put it on the internet before it’s out. (In the old days, video piracy was a case of grainy home movies; not any more, thanks to file-sharing and better cameras, which are, after all, concealed in most mobile phones now.) At worst, patrons are expected to hand in their mobile and pick it up afterwards. This is annoying, but understandable – although its knock-on effect, which I experienced recently at the first UK preview of Skyfall, is that edgy patrons start leaving before the end, in order to get to the front of the phone-retrieval queue!
However, the small print on the invites for both these two blockbusters-in-waiting inform me that not only will I have to give up my phone on entry, I won’t be permitted to take in “bags” either. “You can assist us,” runs the disclaimer, “by leaving all non-essential bags at home or in your vehicle.” First of all, these screening are held in Central London, and most people have jobs in offices and won’t be coming in from “home” on a weeknight. Also, even on a Sunday, I can assure you nobody brings a “vehicle” into Central London unless they have a chauffeur.
I would have been attending directly from the office and would have had at least two bags with me. (Hey, I carry a packed lunch; I’m not too proud to admit that, and it won’t fit into the bag with my laptop in, so back-up is required.) This means I would not have been welcomed with open arms at this screening. I would have been a nuisance, which I have no desire to be. (I’ve heard of one critic being told he would have to hand in his laptop before a screening, but I think security have softened on this madness, as who gets a laptop out and holds it aloft in a cinema “secretly”?)
But here’s why I am even bothering to tell you about my first-world problems: both films I mention are in 3D. Of course they are. I do not yet know of a “recording device” that can successfully record and convert 3D films into digital files. Also, who wants to look at a 3D pirate on a computer? (I’m not a technophile, so I’m prepared to be told that of course clever tech-heads can record and exhibit a 3D film using their phone.)
Here’s my radical solution: I’ll hang on until the films are released, and pay to see them at the cinema like everybody else. That way, I can take as many bags in as I like, and the film companies get my ticket money. They will be happy. I will be happy. Do I sound happy? I am.