Drive-in cinemas aren’t something a lot of us here in the UAE have experienced: they appeared in some parts of the world as early as the 1920s, but fizzled out towards the 1990s (we can blame this on cable television and video rentals).
However, with social distancing now a true necessity, the vintage trend may be the medium-term future of movie-watching.
And Vox Cinemas has turned to this old-school experience as the solution to a very modern problem. On Wednesday, May 13, it debuted its Vox Cinemas Drive-In, so movie lovers could enjoy the big screen without having to leave their cars.
We went to try it out ...
Our invitation specified that there was only one way to get there: by taking the ramp (exit 39) off Sheikh Zayed Road in the direction of Abu Dhabi.
A QR code was provided in advance, and it was scanned by a helpful member of staff who then asked us to follow an usher to our “seats” – aka parking spot. In a very Dubai move, there was a red carpet for cars to drive along, with fairy lights strung above.
The massive screen is perched right under Ski Dubai’s famous ski slope, giving movie watchers a grand view of the Dubai skyline on one side, and Mall of the Emirates’s glass dome on the other. Warning: as far as views go, this is pretty distracting.
For us, the novelty of the experience definitely trumped the movie (we were watching a screening of Will Smith's Bad Boys for Life).
Once we were parked, we were told to tune into a designated radio frequency so the movie's audio would be streamed straight into the car. I was a tad worried about it not syncing properly, but it worked like a charm, giving us great sound quality and control over how loud we wanted the music. Once the sound system was set up, it was just like being back at a regular cinema: maybe even better, considering we could roll down the windows and feel the wind on our faces (you can also put your windows up and use your own AC if it gets too hot).
We could see the screen really well, and didn't feel like the visual part of movie-going was compromised: although tall people may need to put their seats way back to see the whole screen.
Things to know before visiting the drive-in cinema
1. Headlights have to be turned off when the car is parked. Guests can turn on hazard lights if they need assistance: it's a smart way to get the usher’s attention, although it can be a tad distracting if a car right in front of you has its hazard lights on for a while.
2. Restrooms are located inside the mall: people are discouraged from getting out of their car unless they need to go to the bathroom. Don’t forget your face mask when heading over.
3. Don’t honk or flash your headlights unnecessarily (is this the new equivalent of turning on a mobile phone while at the cinema?).
4. If your car air conditioning is on, the recirculate mode is recommended.
5. Snacks are provided at the entrance, but those wanting more need not worry, there is a Vox doing the rounds and it’s fairly easy to ask them for additional food or drinks: or any other questions you might have.
6. Once everything is all set up, simply roll your windows down (weather permitting), put your feet up on the dashboard (or, you know, sit however you want, it’s your car!) and get ready for a novel movie experience under the stars.
7. When booking your 'spot' we recommend getting one in the centre of the car park for the best viewing experience (kind of like in a normal cinema).
The details: prices and movies
Vox Cinemas Drive-In will open to the public from Sunday, May 17.
Movie lovers can check out showtimes and make bookings via Vox Cinemas' website and app. The movies you can expect at first are those that were released right before cinemas closed: Knives Out, Birds of Prey, The Gentlemen, Bloodshot, The Way Back, Joker and 1917 all made the cut.
After registering, guests will receive a QR code that will be scanned by event staff at the venue.
Ticket prices start at Dh189 per car, and two people per car are allowed. The price includes caramel popcorn, salted popcorn, nachos, M&Ms, soft drinks and water.