Monday 23 July 2012

A fire rises in the cinema: Should you stay or should you go?

Ah, the magic of the movies.

A few years ago, I went to see Hellboy 2: The Golden Army at the West Mall cineplex in Bukit Batok. After the usual trailers and ads, the movie began quietly.

The animated Universal Pictures logo came on without music. Next, the logo for a company called Relativity Media.

Then these words silently appeared: “In 1944, a team of paranormal researchers, together with the US Army, rescued a strange creature during a classified mission off the coast of Scotland.”

Next, an old photo of a strange little creature posing with soldiers and more text: “Secretly adopted, this creature now lives among us. It loves candy and TV. Codename: Hellboy.”

So far so good. I thought it was a brave choice to open the movie with complete silence, but it was an effective way to create suspense and an ominous mood.

The first shot of the movie is of a lightly snow-covered army base on Christmas Eve, 1955. Still no music. Still no sound. Now it was getting a little weird, but I was willing to go with it.

Then I saw John Hurt talking but heard no words coming out of his mouth. Yet, the Chinese subtitles indicated that he was saying something.

That was when I began to suspect a problem.

Then when little Hellboy started talking and still nothing could be heard, that sort of confirmed it.

Someone had accidentally set the movie to mute.

I sat there in the theatre and wondered: “Well, what do I do now?

“Is the projectionist aware that there’s no sound? If he’s aware, he would’ve fixed it already. Should I tell him?

“Where is he? Should I be a hero and try to find him or someone else who works in the cinema? Maybe the ticket seller.

“What if someone else in the audience had already done that? Then I would be leaving my seat and missing the movie (albeit without sound) for nothing.

“But what if I stayed in my seat and no one did anything. Would I be willing to sit through the whole movie with no sound and make do with the Chinese subtitles?

“I mean, how important is sound anyway?”

Then I heard someone in the cinema (I think she was a cleaner) yelling in Hokkien to someone else I couldn’t see that there was no sound and to restart the movie. Way to spoil the mood.

The screen suddenly went blank.

Great. So now there was no sound and no picture.

I sat there in the dark and wondered: “Well, what do I do now?

“Should I stay or should I go? I feel stupid just sitting here in the dark.

“Are they going to restart the movie?
From where they stopped it or from the beginning? Do I really want to sit through the beginning of the movie again?

“What if they can’t fix the sound? Do I want to sit here and wait while they try?

“Or should I just get out while the getting is good and try to get a refund? That’s going to be a hassle.”

Suddenly, there was a light and the Universal logo came on again, this time with sound.

I realised sound really did make a huge difference.

The rest of the movie continued without any mishap except for Selma Blair’s acting.

But there was no apology from the cinema staff, not that Selma Blair’s acting is their fault.

So when I read in The New Paper about a curtain catching fire in a Causeway Point cinema 10 minutes into The Dark Knight Rises screening last Thursday, I understood why some of the audience members weren’t sure if they should leave.

If I were in the audience, I would sit there and wonder: “Well, what do I do now?

“Should I evacuate? But they haven’t stopped the movie. I don’t want to miss anything.

“If I evacuate, can I get a refund?

“And even if I can, do I want to go through the hassle of buying another ticket and sit through the first 10 minutes of the movie again?

“It doesn’t look like a very big fire. It’s only the size of A4 paper. Not even A3.

“Maybe someone is just burning a Singapore flag again. I think I’ll stay and watch the movie until SCDF comes.

“I can barely understand what Bane is saying. Is there something wrong with the sound?”

According to The New Paper report, the fire lasted about a minute before it was put out. Everyone was then directed out of the theatre and given free tickets.

One moviegoer caught the next screening for The Dark Knight Rises. He was quoted as saying: “I had also bought popcorn and drinks, and didn’t want to waste it.”

If only he had risen to the occasion and used the drinks to put out the fire, he could’ve been a hero.

But hey, not everyone can be Batman. Or Hellboy.

At least no one was shot to death.

- Unpublished