Another thing to consider is that Stratford already has a cinema, the Stratford Picturehouse. And nearby there is also the historic Genesis Cinema, the Rio and many others. There is also a big Cineworld at the o2 (formerly owned by Vue). What impact does this cinema have on other movie theatres?
It's going to have a big impact. The independent cinemas struggle already, and now having a Vue nearby, in Europe's biggest shopping mall no less, is going to attract local cinema-goers, as well as the passers by who are eager for a movie.
Is that totally a bad thing? It's easy to be nostalgic about the Genesis, for example, but which place gives you the best experience?
I visited Stratford Vue Cinema on the opening day. An afternoon screening. It's quite possible I'm the first person who ever sat in that seat. I have to say, it was a very comfortable seat. This is probably because I was in a VIP seat (which I didn't pay for). If I was sitting where I was meant to be sitting I'd have had the first two and a half rows to choose from. The other five or so are for the VIP people. VIP?? Very Important Person?? The only importance these people have is the economic luxury of being comfortable with being conned.
But let me be honest -- I loved the experience. The screen was big, the picture quality perfect, the sound quality the best I've experienced in a long time. The seats were great too -- Vue use a steep seating design, which is like stadium seating, so the person in front is considerably lower than you are, meaning you get a perfect view of the screen. The film was projected flawlessly, I had plenty of leg-room, and because of the steep-seating, people's annoying checking-of-their-Blackberries was obscured from my view. In fact, there was no phone reception in the cinema, so all of that was kept to a minimum. I hope this is always the case!
Vue have done everything right in Stratford. They've mastered the art of the modern multiplex. The problem is, it's still a multiplex. Aside from a few Bollywood selections for the local Asian community, the films they show are hardly surprising. If you're a normal, sane person -- there's not much to complain about. But then if you're someone like me, you'll be craving the smaller cinemas. The old popcorn smell, the uncomfortable seating, the ever changing temperature. It's like football stadiums. The new Wembley sucks. Arsenal's stadium sucks. Everyone craves going to places like Upton Park, White Hart Lane and Anfield. They have history. They're places where you have memorable experiences. You'll never have the best cinematic experience of your life at a Vue chain. That's not what they're about. Vue cinemas are about watching a film and having enough space in your VIP seat to put all your M&S shopping bags.
I give Vue Westfield Stratford City two ratings. My more objective, fact-based rating, is 8 out of 10. It loses points for the horrid premium seating system and also for having the disabled spaces in the very front row (normally cinemas make better spaces available a bit further back). It also misses out on top points because of the film selection. With 17 screens, they could be a lot more diverse than they are.
That's my objective rating.
My personal rating? 6 out of 10.
The place has no soul! This is not what I love about the cinema! Segregating people based on VIP non-VIP? Cinema should never be about exclusion. People come to the cinema to get away from their problems, not to be reminded that they're poor. People getting standard tickets are stuck in the front couple of rows, the richer people sit further back.
Ever been in screen one at the Cineworld Haymarket? Or spent a night at the Genesis? You're not just watching film, you're partaking in an event. A ritual. A place that feels like a place for films. You know you're in for a treat, because films are something special there. Watching films in a shopping mall is not the same. And sure I'm biased, I feel protective of the little guys. I hope the Stratford Picturehouse will survive. Maybe it'll drive them to commit to showing more alternative programming -- world cinema and independent movies. They can build up their reputation during the Olympics. Show the world what cinema is really about, rather than trying to prize people away from Vue with the same 'Transformers 4' or whatever's out next year. The Prince Charles Cinema in the West End has shown that being alternative and independent can work in the over-crowded multiplex market.
If you find yourself in East London, I'll understand if you want to visit Vue, and I won't judge you. After all, I'll be there sometimes too. But just remember what you're doing. If we're not careful, we'll kill what we love about cinema. The Rio opened in 1909. The Genesis has been a venue for entertainment for over 150 years. Keep your clothes shopping and your cinema viewing separate if you can.