Sometimes in life, when things really matter, you can pinpoint in your memory the exact moment when they started. Your first day at a good school or university, the day you got your first pet, or the day you met your wife for the first time. In my case, I hadn’t been to the cinema for years, and I can still remember the first time I went back.
It was October 1994, and I was just starting my third year at Bath University. In the two years I’d lived there, I’d not really given cinema much of a thought. I was a complete sci-fi nerd, and rapidly becoming a Trekkie, but who wasn’t then at my age? Especially when the university student union was showing The Next Generation on a 200 inch projection TV at 5 p.m. every day.
Then at the start of that year, my plans for renting fell through, and I had to find somewhere new to live. So I turned up on the doorstep of a complete stranger one Saturday afternoon, with all my worldly possessions in the back of a taxi, and thankfully he took pity on me and took me in. (I tested that well when, three weeks later, I accidentally burned down his kitchen. But it all worked out OK in the end…)
As I was at a loose end, that week when he and a few friends were going to the cinema they invited me along. There were two choices – Speed and The Mask. In hindsight, either would have been a pretty good choice, but I was, and still am, an action junkie, and Speed sounded ideal.
It was playing at the ABC cinema in Bath (it may even have been the Cannon in those days), which was ‘the largest cinema screen in the South-West’ at 757 seats, and as you can see from the picture, was one of those grand looking old buildings with a cinema screen in that once dominated town and city centres, and that have now largely been made obsolete by the multiplexes that have taken over since. Indeed, this cinema is also no more, now a comedy club, replaced by a small multiplex just down the road. And the loss of such places should be a sadness to us all – something of the character, not to mention the balcony, just doesn’t exist in the multiplex screen any more.
So of the five of us heading out that evening, two headed to The Mask, and the other three of us headed to see Speed. And for a film to sell you on the benefits of the cinema, surely there can be few better.
From the opening titles, down the lift shaft with Mark Mancina’s rising score pounding along and setting the tempo early, the movie moves through its three acts so efficiently, almost as three mini-movies. Undoubtedly the highlight is the central section, set predominantly on the bus, and the Joss Whedon polished dialogue adds a layer of sparkle. So the audience is then pulled between laughing at the dialogue, and laughing at the sheer incredulity of, “Did they actually just pull that off?”
And everything works so well in the cinema setting, not least the bus, which moves at such a rate but always manages to perfectly fit the widescreen format and show it off to its best. Indeed, the only thing I’d possibly do differently now would be not to sit on the back row, as then it felt like the best view in the house, but now I’d disagree. So it was back to the pub for the essential post-film discussion at the end, once Keanu and Sandra had careered off into the sunset, I was raving about what I’d just seen – and little did I know it, but a love affair was born. Thanks, Keanu.