The Flea Pit

I went to watch Avatar 3D today at the Odeon in Guildford. Now, initially I planned to talk about the experience of watching a movie here in the UK as a footnote in my review of Avatar, but the footnote grew unwieldy enough to warrant its own blog post. When will my review of Avatar come out, you ask? In due time, buddy, in due time.

Guildford Odeon
Creative Commons License photo credit: Secret Pilgrim
Meanwhile, let me talk about the experience of watching a movie in a UK theatre. Now, as El Wiki so knowledgeably informs me, they call it ‘the flea pit‘ around these parts. Personally, I’ve never heard anyone say so but until such time a [citation needed] is added in that wiki article, I’ll run with this because ‘The Flea Pit’ is an immensely more interesting sound article title. ‘The cinema’ (notice the similarities to ‘the weather’ and ‘the Queen’) , as the indigenous folk call it, is an Odeon multiplex not to far away from university campus. Thus far I had avoided it purely for the reason that I was quite satisfied with DC++. With university closed for Christmas, I reckoned that a movie and some company would be worthwhile. Oh, and the movie was in 3D.

As far as buildings go it’s not very striking. I almost walked right past it without noticing, for it certainly isn’t as big as any multiplex I’ve come across on New Delhi, say, any of the PVR Cinemas multiplexes. But maybe that’s just us Indians who do that. Chetan Bhagat is sure to attribute this to a genetic tendency amongst Punjabis to build massive marble-floored monstrosities and try to pass it off as ‘appealing habitation’.

PVR Cinemas

Given the evidence I had seen earlier for how crazy Brits can be, such as movies which start at ‘17:60, I decided to reach half-an-hour before the show just to be on the safe side. Got in queue at the box office to wait my turn to collect tickets I’d booked online. Normally, I prefer to use automated ticket collections kiosks any day – and I would have done so here too – but if you’ve bought a student discount ticket then you need to collect it from a human who’ll verify your student ID.

So I’m chatting with my friend, when a family joins the queue behind me. In tow is a toddler whom daddy decides to hoist on his shoulder a few moments later. What a cherubic child, except that the bastard kept swinging his legs and kicking me in the head while mommy and daddy discussed what movie to watch. Do you have any idea how hard it is to have a conversation when you’re trying to grit your teeth?

Creative Commons License photo credit: A Sweet Success (Laura)
Thankfully, my turn at the counter came soon enough. Dude With Really Long Hair Who Looked More At Home In A Metal Band perfunctorily checked student IDs and handed out golden tickets. After this point, you are granted the privilege of moving on the one area that every moviegoer hates but has to live with anyway – the food and drinks counters.

Multiplexes know that within the confines of their premises they’ve grabbed you by the nuts. Odeon UK is no different. Highway robbery prices for soft drinks, glasses that are (deliberately?) thin enough to allow liquids to burst apart at the slightest pressure, popcorn that tastes like industrial sawdust…ah, everything just like back home. It’s nice to have a semblance of familiarity, innit, so multiplex chains across the globe put up a united front in the department.

Raring to watch the movie now. At the allotted time you rush into the screen your show is in. First thing I notice when I settle down is, horror of horrors, the seats aren’t reclining! On the bright side, the moron sitting behind you (rule #67 – the person sitting behind you is always a moron) can no longer slide forward and sharply kick the back of your seat.

Seats found – check. Popcorn and drinks secured into holders – check. You’re buzzing with excitement going “Let the show begin…woooo!” Except…for the next forty fucking minutes Odeon ‘entertains’ you with nothing but commercials. Including a chosen few in 3D. (I kid you not.) And here I used to think PVR owners were such pimps to keep showing ads for ten minutes before the actual movie began. I’d rather get herpes than have to endure such torture ever again. I don’t buy overpriced popcorn to munch while finding out the ingredients of Tanqueray, goddamnit.

Image by coxy via Flickr

To be fair, once the show began things went smoothly. A discussion on how 3D effects worked for Avatar is best left for its own review. However, I would like to mention that Odeon Guildford uses new RealD 3D projection systems. I found the experience to be a significant improvement over the old red-and-blue-window-glasses system as the glasses are much more comfortable to wear for someone who already wears spectacles (like me), could be seen acceptably even without the 3D glasses, and felt that it strained the eyes a lot lesser.

I don’t know whether “the audience was spellbound” by James Cameron’s artful direction, but man are people exceptionally quiet in a movie theatre here! You could, figuratively speaking, hear a pin drop during the show – and that’s saying something because it’s a thickly carpeted hall. I noticed this, because watching Sam Worthington in the movie reminded me of Terminator Salvation, which in turn reminded me of Christian Bale’s ridiculous raspy voice, which in turn set off one of my non-stop laughing fits. This is very noticeable when absolutely no one else is making any kind of noise at all. Here’s the ‘stiff upper lip’ in action – nobody told me to shut up, and instead opted to go home traumatized. Those in the front rows must have wondered though as to why Cameron inserted a laughter track at random parts in the film.

Avatar is a fairly long film – about 160 minutes in length. Add to that the time Odeon whored itself out to show ads and you’ve been in theatre cooped up for more that three hours. One would expect that, as we do in India, a 5-10 minute-long intermission halfway through the movie would be a fair demand, right? Over here, Odeon thinks the answer is a resolute “NO”. What the fuck is wrong with you English folk? Don’t you, ye know, feel the need to empty your bladder once a certain amount of your Pepsi is finished? Get nachos? Popcorn refills? Admittedly, not having an intermission can make for toilet-humourous news article like this but for the love of humanity please don’t be so cruel to moviegoers.

Gotta go now. Nature’s callin’.

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1 reply on “The Flea Pit”

great stuff – possibly watching it today and I wear spectacles so wanted to know how comfortable 3d specs are. Agree with adverts being way too long and always go to the pub before the film so an intermission would be ideal. You’d think with extra drinks and food being sold during the break it would be a no-brainer.


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