With the summer heat at its fiercest, and options for outdoor activities limited, it's boomtime for cinemas in the region as audiences take the opportunity to escape the baking sunshine and take in some blockbuster fare.
Although this region has, by and large, escaped the global trend of declining attendances, competition has never been tougher. The UAE's cinemas have always been at the forefront of the global move towards luxury cinema experiences, unsurprisingly for a region with a love of the finer things in life.
Reclining chairs, comfy blankets and celebrity chefs have all done their bit to lure audiences through the doors, but it's no longer enough to offer panko prawns and a leather recliner, and assume you have the edge over the competition.
Increasingly, cinemas are looking towards intriguing locations, themed events and ever-expanding food-and-beverage offerings to set themselves apart and become the top option for taking in the latest Tom Cruise stunt-fest or superhero offering.
Here's a rundown of some of the more intriguing cinema experiences you can choose from in the UAE.
4D Cinema, various locations
As the name implies, 4D Cinema takes the 3D template and pushes it a step further, with moving seats, wind, water, scent and smoke effects all designed to make you “feel” the movie, rather than simply watch it.
There are a couple of competing standards – Novo Cinemas has chosen US company MediaMation’s MX4D for its 4D experiences, while Vox Cinemas has opted to go with the original, South Korean 4DX system.
It’s safe to say you won’t notice the difference between the two. You will have to sacrifice some luxury for the 4D experience however: the moving seats have to be rigid, so there’s no recliners here, and the choice of films is limited.
Big action movies and superhero films are generally the genre of choice – no one would really want to watch a love story while being squirted with water and rocking from side-to-side, but there’s still a surprising variety of films available in the format.
Novo says it will be releasing 35 movies in the MX4D format this year alone. Marvel and DC are both adopters of the technology, while other releases available in 4D include Mission: Impossible – Fallout.
Hotel Cinema, Reel Rove Downtown
Reel Cinemas has opted for a boutique cinema feel with its debut Hotel Cinema, which is the first of many such concepts to come, we have been told.
Hotel Cinema offers a smaller, more intimate moviegoing experience than a full cinema, with just 46 quirky seats, more in the style of a mismatched urban bistro than a cinema, and a full selection of food-and-beverage options from the hotel’s licensed kitchens.
The vibe here is more European art-house cinema than multiplex, and with no children allowed after 7pm, the venue should prove popular with those who want to watch films without the chatter of the young ones.
Reel promises its programming will reflect the cinema's grown-up, boutique aspirations with more world and indie films, although at the time of writing, the movies on offer were fairly standard: Mission: Impossible – Fallout, The Spy Who Dumped Me and Fanney Khan. Dh70, www.reelcinemas.ae
Guy Fieri’s Kitchen and Bar and Dine in Cinema, Reel Jebel Ali
Taking the “fancy food and film” concept a step further, Reel’s Guy Fieri concept claims to be the first licensed cinema in the Middle East, and the venue takes its F&B offerings seriously.
The celebrity American chef has designed a film-friendly menu of treats that won't distract you from the movie, and a cunning layout – more akin to a lecture theatre than a cinema – means that waiters can deliver your food from in front and below without blocking your (or anyone else's) view of the screen. This is something of a personal gripe in the standard cinema dining experience, where you often see more of the waiters milling around than the action on the big screen.
The flip side is that one cinemagoer at a screening we attended recently complained that the layout lacked the luxury of some of the premium experiences, so there's perhaps something of a trade-off here in return for good food and drinks. The cinema offers a movie, plus two courses and a main, with unlimited soft drinks, for Dh160, or buy your movie ticket and order a la carte.
From Dh50, www.reelcinemas.ae
Vox Laser Imax, Mall of the Emirates
There's no shortage of Imax screens around the UAE. The giant-screen technology has been wowing audiences around the world for a few years now, but the daddy of them all is Vox's Laser Imax at Mall of the Emirates, the only screen of its kind in the region.
While most Imax projectors rely on xenon bulbs, the Laser Imax, as the name implies, uses the latest in laser technology to deliver the highest-quality images on a screen even bigger than standard Imax – 36.6 metres, rather than the usual 24.4 metres. The technology doesn't stop with the visuals, either. Each of the cinema's 12 speakers are monitored by their own microphone, and the signals constantly relayed to a central processor that ensures optimum audio is delivered throughout the movie. Definitely one for the tech geeks rather than the luxury lovers, though Vox does also offer cinemagoers a full menu while they watch. The Dubai screen also claims to be the cheapest Laser Imax in the world, with tickets from Dh52.50, compared to the equivalent of more than Dh100 at most global locations.
From Dh52.50, www.voxcinemas.com
Reel ScreenX, Dubai Mall
If one giant screen isn't enough for you, how about three giant screens? Reel's new ScreenX offers a 270-degree viewing experience, with the film projected on to the front and side walls of the cinema for a truly immersive experience. We haven't yet had the chance to check the technology – the cinema opened earlier this month with a screening of giant-shark blockbuster The Meg – but the early teasers and clips from the Korean manufacturer CJ 4DPLEX certainly look mighty impressive.
From Dh63, www.reelcinemas.ae
Cinema Akil eschews luxury seats and super high-tech screens in favour of putting the film front and centre, offering the best in world, indie and alternative cinema, and a place for fans to meet and chat about movies in its cafe. The team behind Cinema Akil have been operating pop-ups around the UAE since 2014, but towards the end of this year (an exact date is yet to be set), it will become the region's first permanent art-house cinema when it moves into its new location in Alserkal Avenue, complete with reclaimed seats from Bur Dubai's historic Plaza Cinema.
This is definitely one for the cooler months, Vox Outdoor cinema, on the roof of Dubai's Galleria Mall, offers sofas for two and beanbags under the stars while you watch the latest big-screen releases, as well as blankets for the coolest of the cooler months. Tickets cost from Dh137 per person, including a food-and-drink package, with an additional a la carte menu if the hot dogs and nachos in the main package don't fill a stomach-shaped hole. There's only one screen, so make sure you know what you want to see before you arrive.