You do the maths

That showed ’em. I was down to see a big preview screening of Iron Man 2 tonight at “a West End venue” (as they always put on the tickets until you RSVP for the actual name of the cinema), but I discovered, late in the day, that it was one of those big preview screenings where security is post-9/11 and frankly tiresome. I was politely pre-warned that I would be subject to a bag search and would be required to hand in my mobile phone and any other devices that may be used for recording, to be collected afterwards. Now, this can include laptops. I have no wish to hand over my laptop to security. It is too important an item to lend to a man I have never met for over two hours.

So, I declined the invitation to see Iron Man 2 three days before it goes on general release. I will, instead, pay to go and see it at the cinema, where I will be permitted to take my phone and my laptop into the auditorium with me. This was my decision. I didn’t go there and make a scene; I merely informed the press office I would not be attending. I understand fully why Paramount, like any other major Hollywood studio, would be so paranoid about piracy that they would make journalists feel like criminals, but I opt out of this arrangement. Fortunately, I am not reviewing the film for anyone in advance, so it’s not even a debate I need to engage in.

Instead, I went to a local cinema and watched a new film that is already on general release called Agora, a pretty unsexy-looking, 12A-certificate historical drama starring Rachel Weisz as the “legendary philosopher and mathematician” Hypatia, set in AD 369, when tensions between pagans and Christians in Egypt were running high. Put it this way, unlike Iron Man 2 (which incidentally I was looking forward to seeing, as I enjoyed Iron Man), most of the action is set in a library.

Guess what? I really liked Agora. A Spanish-made film in English and shot in Malta, but cast with a lot of British actors (albeit not famous ones), as well as partially recognisable Middle Eastern ones like Homayoun Ershadi (The Kite Runner) and Ashraf Barhom (The Kingdom), it told me things that I didn’t know about the period, served up a sort of love triangle, used neat CGI in a functional rather than showy way to recreate the ancient port of Alexandria, and made some fairly obvious parallels to modern religious conflicts by having a statue of a bearded man pulled down and treasures looted. Director Chilean Alejandro Amenábar did the smaller-scale drama The Sea Inside, but he adapted well to a bigger canvas. Do you know what, over two hours, I wasn’t bored once. That’s the mark of a decent film.

It could almost have been made 40 years ago and been shown in the afternoon on BBC2, but that’s a compliment. I suspect it will not be a massive box office smash, but I’m jolly glad that I eschewed the heavy handed security of a West End screening and went local, to see a film that’s already out.

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10 thoughts on “You do the maths

  1. It was a ludicrous, ludicrous system – made moreso by the fact that there’s nothing especially secret about the film that use of “recording devices” could give away for the general public, and that you’d hardly expect the first place to find potential pirates would be at an industry screening (although it appears that the proper “press screening” was last night’s at the Westfield – though there were some journos there tonight, it was a bigger crowd (at Odeon Leicester Square) and more like an ordinary showing that happened to be free). It’s not particularly nice to be treated like you’re a potential criminal, and in fact just thinking about it more has made me angrier about it than I was at the time.

    But yeah, I can’t think who decided it would be a good idea to create this massive, crowded scrum in the tiny lobby as everybody streamed out of the much-bigger screen, with around 90% of the people there having phones to queue up and reclaim…

  2. I’m not sure if the film-reviewers are a close-knit bunch.

    But why not organise for you all to turn up at the next big hollywood press screening with no mobile phones, cameras or laptops. Not one. Then the security crew will either have to stand by uselessly while you all walk into the sceening or physically search each and every journo.

    I can see the head of security standing in the corner of the lobby, ear piece attached fuming comically. Or have I seen too many monvies…

  3. I saw Agora being referenced in a Bettany Hughes documentary on More4 about Alexandria a few weeks ago. Thought it looked interesting, so hope it will turn up in a cinema near me soon!

    I have liked everything I have seen from Alejandro Amenabar – check out Abre Los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), which was remade as Vanilla Sky, very good. I thought VS wasn’t as entirely pointless as most Hollywood remakes of international features, but the original is great. Trivia fact – Penelope Cruz plays the same role in both versions.

    As for the security for Iron Man 2 – it’s understandable, but very alienating – politely refusing to engage seems to be a perfect response.

  4. It always makes me laugh when i read stories of journalists handing over there phones/laptops at screenings after all, those are elements that essential to your livelihood. Especially when there has never been an incident where a film has either been released from a mobile phone nor from a press screening.

    I always think back a Cory Doctorow article from the guardian where he looked into the security measure put in place to ensure the safety and integrity of the possessions you have to hand over.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jul/14/mobile-phones-and-movie-security

    Never mind the inconvenience of being searched. As journalist I am fairly sure that you would have relatively sensitive materials be it half worked through scripts, novels, screenplays etc.

    I am glad you enjoyed Agora it sounds like an interesting movie which unfortunately is not being shown around me. Iron Man has had rather poor reviews coming out today so I feel you did not miss out on waiting a few days.

  5. Someone at work was saying the other day that he’d had to hand in his laptop when he went to the cinema. He’s not a journalist. It wasn’t a premiere. Frankly it wouldn’t surprise me if this is standard policy in some chains. Though I doubt anyone whose serious about piracy would just walk in with a laptop slung over his shoulder.

  6. Movie studios…. get over yourselves.

    Movies are pirated by many different means. Mobile phones and laptops in the cinema are not the primary method.

    Screeners, airline edits etc are the method.

    Only kids watch telesync pirates online and they are not your end customer – they don’t buy the movie.

    Idiots.

    Shades of the music industry. Look where that shower of crooks have ended up eh ?

  7. Andrew,

    I’ve just noticed..

    “Never Knowingly Underwhelmed

    Don’t look like much here, but we have everything”

    “Don’t look like much here…”

    and you criticize the newspapers for their grammar!

    Where’s your subject?

  8. I assume you’re joking, Adbads. The line is a quote from a film. I won’t bore you by telling you which one. It’s American, though, hence the lazy grammar.

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