Imagine the perfect cinema experience. What would it include? Would it be childfree or cell phone less? Would late showers be denied entry or snacks be disallowed? As Vox Cinemas roll out their “distraction-free” screenings in Abu Dhabi, I can’t help but wonder if their new experience can really live up to its own hype.
Last year, I had the perfect cinema experience. I was lucky enough to watch Avengers: Infinity War while on a holiday in Osaka, Japan. As I sat in silence with a sold-out theatre as end credit after end credit rolled, I couldn't help but be impressed with how patient the Japanese audience was. From start to finish, I was able to focus entirely on the film that lasted two hours and 40 minutes. There wasn't a cell phone in sight and no one seemed restless.
As I headed to Vox Cinemas on Nation Towers for a "distraction-free" 9.30pm screening of Joker, I was curious to know if the new experience would be worth it. After all, the four "golden rules" include no talking, no phones, no late arrivals and no guests under 18. Why wouldn't I be excited?
My friend and I were worried that if we showed up after 9.30pm we wouldn’t be let in. However, we arrived at 9.28pm, only to be the second pairing in the theatre. Other moviegoers showed up during the trailer previews. The theatre was also a bit smaller than I expected with only roughly around 50 or so seats. In the end, there were only 11 of us at the showing so we were spaced out well.
As the movie began playing, staff members were not in sight.
My friend and I had grabbed a popcorn and nachos for the film, which I thought initially would not be part of this type of screening. At the end of the day, chewing can be a distraction, but luckily for us, food and drink was allowed.
The theatre was relatively quieter because, besides the fact that there were only 11 of us, "distraction free" also meant that only customers 18 years and older were allowed in. There's also the idea of paying for a screening that specifically advertises itself towards a certain crowd: one who just wants to watch a film in peace.
Sadly, the experience didn’t feel noticeably different because of the “no distraction” rules. The moviegoer sitting in front of me still checked his phone throughout and even though I didn’t want to look, I couldn’t help but find myself going from the big screen to his screen every time his phone lit up when he used it. Although, I will give him credit for at least keeping his phone on silent mode.
Vox Cinemas is trying with their new concept and I believe it is with the best of intentions. However, it doesn't seem to be enforced fully, otherwise what's the point of distraction free if you're going to be distracted anyway.