The Cultural Divide: The Theatre Experience

by MaxPower

Growing up watching movies in Canada, one could see small but significant changes in the way we watched movies in theatres. First and most perceptible was the significant increase in ticket prices, then the addition of commercials prior to the previews and concurrently the rise of ‘big sound big picture big theatre’ complexes. Somehow I always thought that this was a rather global phenomenon and that everyone the world over watched movies the same way. Apparently I was wrong, the cultural differences which are inherent between the UK and Canada are even more pronounced when comparing movie-watching regimens. My research is, as always, purely anecdotal.

1. Theatre Style – New Canadian theatres are mega multiplexes with at least 10 screens, ‘coliseum style seating’ digital THX sound quality and franchised food outlets. All of this aims at creating a ‘movie going experience’ and even with the increase in prices I somehow felt at least a bit more content knowing that I could at least make 3 hours of entertainment out of my 10 or 12 bucks as the case may be. The old style theatre complex in which you did not usually want to reside for more than the 2 hour movie is rapidly fading from our collective conscious along with the notion of seeing a cheap movie for cheap. In the UK, or at least London, there is no super megaplex, land is simply too expensive, so there is a curious hybrid in its place, a theatre which sells itself as a megaplex but offers the services of an old style theatre. Small screens with a huge aisle down the middle of the theatre effectively negating the best viewing areas with a barely sloped floor allowing you for an enjoyable view into the back of some Brit’s head.

2. Seating Arrangement – Further to the small theatre styles which are Britain’s theatre hallmarks (and I don’t mean this in an attractive way – small in the pejorative sense) is their absolutely bizarre method of seating. I was aghast and shocked when the teenaged ticket seller asked where I wanted to sit, front or back. I replied middle and she gave me a disparaging look – who is this pompous American? Apparently the norm is to assign seating for theatres. I was entitled to row K seats 4 and 5. Why it is not first come first serve as it is in North America is beyond me. Not only is it hard to determine where you want to sit before you get into the theatre as all are set up differently, assigned seating opens up a whole new set of problems, some of which were readily evident. We got to the movie theatre relatively early and got a relatively central seat location with no one else in the theatre. When the next couple entered with their assigned seats they sat in row K seats 6 and 7. An entirely empty theatre and they sit next to me because that is where they were told to. Nearer the start of the movie, the problem was the opposite, single seats left unreserved by the computer went empty as couples were broken up to sit apart as people were less likely to ‘move to the middle’ to free up two seats in a row. They didn’t want to leave their assigned seat. Maybe it’s just me but this just doesn’t make sense.

3. Costs – I thought nothing could top the insanely spiralling prices of North American movie tickets and snacks. I was partially correct. Theatre tickets in the UK are around £5.50 a pop, which is approximately $12 CDN or $7.50 USD comparable to theatre tickets in North America. This, however, is out of line with most things being the same price in the UK as in Canada except being denominated in pounds sterling. (ex. A tank of gas for a mid size car cost between £25 – 30 while in Canada you can expect to pay $25-30) So comparatively, theatre tickets are less expensive here. As I noted above while the quality is also lower, the major difference is that a medium popcorn and pop would set you back 8 pounds here! That’s a third more than the ticket itself costs, imagine paying 14 or 15 bucks for your drink and popcorn, no way. I couldn’t believe that price, but people lined up to pay it without the same economic horror I went through. So while you may think North American prices for food at theatres are extortionate; they could be worse.

4. Pre-Movie – Finally the movie has started, oh good previews right? Um no afraid not if your in the UK, you can expect no less than 20 minutes of commercials and one preview. I kid you not, the movie ‘started’ at 4:10 but only came on at 4:35 following one pathetic preview and 20 minutes of coke, car and candy commercials. Apparently the locals know this, as while the theatre was half full at 4:10, it was filled to capacity at 4:30, thus fully half of the audience came ‘late’ to the film to skip the requisite commercials. Again I was aghast.

5. Miscellaneous Complaints and Observations – There are other cultural differences in movie watching as well. Cell phones (called ‘mobiles’) are as common as stereotypical views of Canadians eh? around here and the annoying ‘text messaging’ alert (BEEP beep BEEP beep BEEP beep) will accompany the movie in its entirety. Apparently watching in silence is unheard of as well as parents seem to allow their children run up and down the aisles yelling and throwing food, it was as if I was part of some bad movie scene based in a theatre. Oh yes, there is also no air conditioning, usually not much of a problem – just don’t go see the movie on a day when the temperature hits plus 32.

  • The Cultural Divide: The Theatre Experience
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on September 1st, 2001

More from :

Other recent features: