By Sarawakian

When was the last time you went to the cinema? Pre Covid-19, the cinema has always been part of our lives. For those in college or university, watching a movie has been an important social activity along with going to the arcades or playing computer games. Some families make it a point for family movies at least once a month.

The cinema industry today has changed drastically. During Covid-19, they were required to shut down all their operations and the last few businesses to be allowed open thereafter. Even so, the many regulations further created more challenges for the enjoyment of watching a movie together. The industry was also facing a dearth of movie titles and that made the industry open without much content. This was due to filming and funding becoming more difficult during the pandemic years.

In Subang Jaya, we have a few cinemas to choose from. Today, we can choose from GSC, TGV or Dadi to enjoy our movies. GSC now has 2 locations. One in Summit USJ and the other one in Subang Parade. Interestingly, MBO in Subang Parade was taken over by GSC after the pandemic. TGV Cinemas are at Sunway Pyramid. We used to have halls in One City with the Premium X Cinemas which were later rebranded as CineHouse Cinemas. They were closed for a while, and I am not sure if they reopened. Dadi Cinemas are at the Da Men Mall.

However, when the cinemas were closed for a while, we were mostly forced to seek alternatives. Apple TV, Disney, HBO and Netflix provided them along with YouTube and IQIYI. They had original content and a library of classics and back titles to choose from. This led many to the advantages of flexibility and control. This inadvertently also spurred larger computer screen sales and television sales as home entertainment became something worth the investment.

Today, cinemas have yet to be able to muster the same crowds as before, Even Hollywood titles did not produce the same forward-looking excitement as before. We cannot simply lay blame on the cinemas.  Cinemas are after all just exhibitors and the films they obtain depends on the film distributors. The titles and content which the distributors obtain would then also rely on the film makers. Without new ideas and new movies, there is nothing much a film distributor or the cinema can do. The cinema operator can only create the ambiance and the delivery of the content to the audience.

Would cinemas survive? I believe so. But they would really need to have a marathon like ability to ensure they have the stamina to go on throughout the rather slow uptake. Movie tickets in Malaysia are still very affordable compared to other Southeast Asian Countries. Perhaps cinema operators need more slack from the Government in easing their entertainment tax. This will help make the tickets more affordable.

Gone are the days of standalone cinemas. Those who were born before the 1990s would have been able to at least experience or see a standalone cinema. These cinemas would always fill up during the midnight shows and the weekends or public holidays. During the festive periods of Christmas, Chinese New Year, Harai Raya, Gawai / Kaamatan or Deepavali, you would surely see a crowd. In those days remembered, you would have to go to the cinema to look for the show times or from the newspaper.

Purchasing a ticket would be from the ticket counter and each seat selected and paid for would be cancelled off with tailors’ chalk. This evolved into telephone bookings when multi hall cinemas became a norm. You would then need to come and redeem your booking. Even the snacks sold at the standalone cinemas then do not exist today. In those days, the kuaci, sotong snacks, fruits, preserved fruits, fizzy drinks in plastic bags as well as packet drinks were normal. Popcorn packets were hardly seen.

Today, your tickets are bought online or in the cinema via a kiosk. There are no more ticket counters. There is less human interaction today. The only counter left is the popcorn, snacks and drinks counter. Today, snacks have become mainly popcorn, chocolates and some fried items. The double layer cinema of before today does not exist with multi hall cinemas.

The seats at the cinema today have improved a lot. You would get better seats and better width for your hands to rest. There are even neatly placed cup holders and better hygiene in the cinemas. All we need now are better entertainment content from the movie producers. We would need better cinema ratings so that the censorships can be eased off. This would certainly help in the battle against alternative channels and piracy.

Cinemas have always been a social space for families, young adults, and students. In the many years, Malaysians have been patronizing cinemas without issues. It is a place where one will be able to sit together and enjoy the entertainment with company; not separated. Of course, some would find solo solace in movies.

Perhaps it is a good time for us to check out the cinemas again with our families. The cinemas have been through so much and they have also done over and above in ensuring the place and kept clean and sanitized. You cannot replicate the feeling of the big screen and the incredible sound system. I am sure it would be an interesting rediscovery of a feel-good environment. Go on and make that leap again.