Seems like old times

Returning to the big screen experience following the eased lockdown measures

To some, the three-month shutdown of movie theatres might not be a big deal. But for an avid moviegoer like myself, there's nothing like the thrill of entering a chilly, air-conditioned theatre with popcorn in hand. The reopening of theatres, and the release of blockbusters like Christopher Nolan's Tenet and Unhinged, a thriller starring Russell Crowe, along with Disney's live-action Mulan gave me a sort of comfort that the days of the old normal may not be too far ahead.

However with the reopening comes stringent health regulations to protect consumers and employees. The hope of a return to normalcy may span a few more months, driven by staggered theatre openings, reduced operating hours and lingering social distancing. Last weekend I decided to check out a movie theatre to see how well the new measures were holding up. The sparsely attended screening indicated to me that consumers may not be fully comfortable with public gatherings.

I picked an SF cinema located in a shopping mall that was screening Emma, a new period romantic comedy. I arrived at the shopping mall around 5pm in time to catch the movie that was starting an hour later. I was one of four people who bought tickets to see Emma.

Giant cardboard signs in front of the theatre's entrance explained the Covid safety measures. Patrons have their temperature checked and are required to check in by scanning the Thai Chana QR code before entering.

SF Cinema

While Department of Health guidelines published online that day stated theatres were not permitted to sell food and drinks, I found I was allowed to buy snacks and beverages freely at the venue. Staff said the cinema has been selling popcorn to customers since its May 29 reopening. They also distributed latex "finger cots" as a further protection from the coronavirus.

The finger cots came sealed in a plain plastic bag and are very similar to condoms. They looked suspiciously like those rubber finger gloves people wear to avoid contact with public places like elevator buttons and ATMs. In order to enjoy popcorn, I decided to trust my own freshly washed hands instead of putting those latex gloves in my mouth.

I enjoyed the movie although I wish there were more people. Movies are meant to be a communal experience. The new regulations call for cinemagoers to be seated three seats apart. Even that would have been much better had there been more people. A comedy without a theatre full of laughter makes the venue feel haunted.

During the ongoing pandemic, alternative home streaming services are widely available. Consumers may believe that this is not the best time to return to the theatre. But if theatre owners remain vigilant in lifting up safety standards they should be able to weather the storm.

A cardboard sign explaining safety measures. (Photo: Tatat Bunnag)

Latex 'finger cots' come with each purchase of popcorn.  (Photo: Tatat Bunnag)