It’s showtime folks. Faiza Omar with her family at Novo Cinemas in Ibn Batuta Mall Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: It’s 11pm on July 9 and Faiza Omar, 23, is on a night out with her family, mother-in-law included, at the Novo Cinemas in Ibn Battuta Mall. The excitement in the eight-member group is palpable as they wait for the Bollywood flick Guest in London to begin in 20 minutes.

“I have been watching Pakistani and Indian films in the cinemas since I was a child,” says the Pakistani woman. “And I love doing it with family and friends as it is a great time to bond. In fact, we all watched Mom together here last weekend,” she adds, suggesting the movie outings with the group are a regular affair.

Elsewhere, in the China Court, Syrian Waleed Talal, 26, who is visiting the mall from Abu Dhabi, says the theatre is a strict no-no for him. “There is too much noise with people constantly chattering when the movie is going on. Phones keep ringing and that puts me off. So I have stopped seeing movies in the theatres unless they are special screenings,” he says. He prefers watching films in the comfort of his home.

As UAE audiences become spoilt for choice with enhanced theatre and video-on-demand offerings, there’s no denying the sharp divide among them on their preferences to go about the great escape.

Big vs small screen, public vs private viewing, collective vs individual experience, high vs low or no cost, controlled vs free space – there are many factors that are cited in the cinema hall vs home movie watching debate.

The bigwigs of cinema put it in perspective. “Watching a movie in the cinema allows the viewer to experience the film the way the director intended: in a dedicated viewing environment with full cinema surround sound and on the big screen. The added bonus of watching films in the cinema is being able to connect with complete strangers on a shared topic of interest. To laugh or cry with strangers is part of the movie magic,” says Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen, CEO of Novo Cinemas.

Social factor

Cameron Mitchell, CEO of VOX Cinemas, stresses on the social factor. “We believe that our guests enjoy visiting the cinema because of the social element of cinema-going, as much as to simply see a movie. Guests can screen a movie at home, however it’s only at a VOX Cinema that they can meet their friends in a huge interactive foyer, before enjoying the latest blockbuster on a 20+ metre screen, backed by an incredible surround sound system, while sitting (or reclining) in the most comfortable of seats, whilst being served Michelin-star standard food and beverages.”

Constant innovations also add to the sense of showmanship. As Mitchell says, “Guests can choose from ThEATre by Rhodes for the discerning, to IMAX with Laser for the big screen addicts, to VOX Kids for the younger at heart, or 4DX for the technology fans. VOX Cinemas always offers something for everyone to ensure that every VOX cinema experience creates a great moment that cannot be replicated at home, sitting on a couch, watching a film on the small screen without the showmanship in cinemas.”

Novo’s Stanford-Kristiansen also describes how customers’ expectations of cinemas as well as filmmakers have increased tenfold in recent years. “It’s not enough to offer over a dozen films in one location anymore, but cinemas must also provide a variety of international content; technology is expected to be cutting edge and again, a variety of “viewing experiences” i.e. 3D, 4D, IMAX with Laser, Atmos surround sound, bespoke children’s screens are expected.” She says cinemas are evolving into full entertainment destinations, with Novo even adding bowling lanes and a sushi bar at its newest cinema.

Selective viewing

Advocates for video-on-demand see things differently. Says Jordanian movie reviewer Razan Takas: “There is a definite trend towards video-on-demand screening in the UAE. People are getting selective about the movies they watch in the cinemas.” She claims while blockbuster thrillers, autobiographies and franchise movies do well at the theatres, others are largely viewed on platforms like Netflix or even YouTube at home.

Hind Al Abtawi, 24, says, “I am a filmmaker myself and I know the kind of effort that goes into sound quality. So I go to a cinema only if it is a big ticket movie with good visuals and sound. Otherwise, I love sitting at home and watching movies on Netflix.”

Remo, a Filipino bachelor, a homebird when it comes to movies, says his menu is extensive, considering the many streaming services he can choose from. “Besides Netflix, there are other services that have caught on in the UAE like icflix, Starz Play, Hulu and Amazon Prime,” he says. “Also, why would I spend Dh35 on one cinema ticket when I can watch a movie for a monthly fee of an equivalent amount or even for free at home?”


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