Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bangkok Movie Theater

I like movies. I don't see a lot of movies, but I manage to get out to the theater to watch big screen movies whenever something appeals to me. I get the impression that Hollywood doesn't really want me to go to the movies, though. The ticket price is on the expensive side, the concession stand snacks are outrageously expensive, the seats are mostly adequate and finally, we are subjected to at least half a dozen commercials (which we've already seen on TV) before we even see the previews. While I appreciate the effort of using the Imax screens for blockbuster films, that is as innovative as they get ... at least in North America.

Going to the movies in Bangkok can be a wondrous experience. The past several years have seen the introduction of some impressive movie theaters in the city. Going to a movie in one of the high-end malls is a real experience. The lobby, for starters, is a great place to explore. In addition to the numerous screens showing previews of current films and coming events, various merchants from the mall and brand vendors have booths set up with special discounts and promotions. Show your ticket to a particular movie, for example, and you get a chance to win an instant prize or a discount to something related to the film.

In addition to drawing the entertainment seeking crowd for movies, the theaters have figured out that their venues can be used for other media events as well. While American theaters nobly experimented with such things as live broadcasts of opera and wrestling, in Bangkok the theaters use their spacious lobbies to host media events. One evening I witnessed the tail end of a presentation that included a number of Thai celebrities.

Walking up to what I thought was an information booth, in one establishment, turned out to be a concierge booth. I wasn't quite sure what their role was, but the fact that they had one implied that this theater is actually thinking about how to serve their customers, not just get money from them. There are typically two different lines to get a ticket. The regular line is manned by three or four ticket sellers while a red carpet line is dedicated to frequent movie-goes holding a special pass. Buying a ticket is not a simple matter of handing over your money and getting a receipt. The ticket seller uses a screen to show you a schematic of the theater so you can pick out the seat you want! No more rushing to find a good seat. You can take your time - which means you'll probably visit the concession stand.

Now, the snacks might be my only complaint about the Bangkok movie-going experience because Thais are not into popcorn quite as much as North Americans (which is probably a good thing). However, if you get to the cinema early enough, you can enjoy a quick meal at the restaurant inside the complex. The restaurant is not a last minute idea, but a tasteful, modern design.

The very best part of the experience is the fact that you have more choice when going to the movies. The regular theater has comfortable seats, but spend a few bucks more and you have an option to choose from a limited number of reclining seats, complete with leg rest, or even a love seat. It gets better. You have the option of picking a premium theater.

Instead of waiting in the regular lobby, there is a plush waiting room at the entrance of each of the movies for the premium ticket holders. Some even provide a complimentary beverage and snack. When the theater has been cleaned from the previous showing, an attendant ushers everyone inside at a leisurely pace.

If the lobbies are not incentive enough, these premium theaters have even more seating options. Rather than a reclining chair, you have the option of a reclining love seat (red), a cushioned day bed that holds up to four people (gray), or even bean bag chairs! Each option, of course, has a separate price.

No sticky cement floors in this place, they actually go out of their way to lay a very artistic carpet. Need a drink refill while watching the film? Just get the attention of the attendant and someone will run out to the concession stand so you don't have to miss a thing.

While the audience is still subjected to two or three commercials before the film, they're not the typical TV commercials. They're designed for the big screen and are usually entertaining even without understanding the language.

While Hollywood demands that we hand over money for the privilege of watching whatever they've churned out lately, the Bangkok establishments recognize that going to the movies is a social event and have worked hard to make that experience a pleasant one ... regardless of the quality of the film.

See larger versions of the images here.

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