Man, the last run of posts has been rather doom and gloom. Let’s get back to the awesome. Let’s talk about movies!
First thing to know is this is not the land of the megaplex. There are a few theaters that have up to 8 screens, but most are somewhere around 4 to 6, and the theaters themselves tend to be much smaller than in the US. To make up for this, and still provide a variety of films, most movies are only in the theaters for a week, unless they are a major blockbuster or a romance film that is raking in the big bucks. In that case, they may linger as long as 3 weeks, but it is rare for any film to last longer than that. You really have to act fast if you want to see a film in the theaters, because you never really know which will linger and which will disappear. To accommodate super huge, American action blockbusters, like Spiderman and the Marvel movies, all the screens at a theater may show only that one film for the entire week.
When we first arrived in the country, we had to wait months for American films to get here. Since then, the movie execs changed their minds about how they were going to handle worldwide releases, and now it’s common for us to get a film a few days ahead of the US, if not a whole week ahead, as was the case with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and several other major releases.
The films change here on a Wednesday, and most theaters start showing films daily sometime between 11am and 1pm. You can see movie times by googling for the name of your theater, or you can use the Click the City app on your phone. We have IMAX at several locations throughout the Manila metro area, and there is a “4D” theater somewhere in the Manila area if you feel like having stinky stuff sprayed in your face while your seat is jerked around under you. (Is my hatred of 4D theaters showing?) Some theaters are part of the SureSeats service, where you can buy your tickets online. You have to print your tickets and then when you get to the theater, you sign them at the door.
Most theaters have assigned seating. At those venues, you will be presented with a computer screen with a seating chart to pick your seats from. Prices for tickets range from about P180-P220 for a normal film, depending on the theater, up to P300 or so for an IMAX or 3D version of the film. The cheaper the tickets are, the poorer the quality of the theater itself, though most of the theaters in the nicer malls in the Manila Metro area are modern and in good condition. There are often ushers when you get in who can help you to your seat, especially if you come in after the lights have dropped. If you have been there before, you can just pass them by and find your own seat. It’s not rocket science; it works like any other seating system when you find your letter row and the numbered seats within that row.
You can openly take your own food into the theater with you. Most theaters will still have their own concessions area, and since they are competing with normal snack stands and restaurants, they don’t charge an arm and a leg. As a result, we can go to a movie here and have a popcorn and soda for everyone and spend about $8 a head for the tickets and snacks combined, if not less. Also, this can mean that showings around mealtimes can have a cacophony of smells. Sometimes, we will buy seats on an aisle and pay for an extra seat on the other side of us so that no one ends up directly next to the fellow who thought that an onion-topped chili dog was the best choice for movie snacking. I’m not sure if one starts to tune out the smells, or if everyone gets their meals consumed and the aircon clears the remaining odors out of the room, but it does seem like after a while, the odors die down. In some theaters, before the show starts, there will be a few fellows with hip-baskets selling an array of snacks like bags of popcorn or cotton candy, candy bars, and cans of soda. Sometimes they will also have a menu for the main concession stand for things like hot dogs or whatever, that they will fetch and bring in to you. This is really handy when the lines are crazy long outside or you’re arriving without enough time to get something yourself.
Most of the theaters have restrooms at the back of the theater itself. This is GREAT, because if you have to go, it’s a quick trip and often they have speakers in the bathrooms so you can at least listen to what you’re missing.
Movies start on time, meaning that all the previews are run before the advertised start time and the movie itself will start when they said it would. So don’t assume you can be 20 minutes late and just miss the previews. If you want to see the previews, you need to get there 15-20 minutes early. If you are attending the first showing of the day, the first “preview” will be the Philippines National Anthem. You should stand out of respect. Whether you sing along is up to you. (It’s rather catchy.) The SM theaters have a rather grandiose historical film that plays under the national anthem. Among other things, it gets into some of the more negative aspects of American-Filipino relations through the years. It can feel rather awkward as an American. We have talked to our kids about the things our government did here in the past, and that we weren’t here then and don’t need to accept blame for it, but they are rather tender-hearted pacifists who love their second homeland and can get worked up over our country’s negative behavior here. So, when we go to matinees at SM theaters we try to get there after the start of the previews. That national anthem film is also full of battle scenes, so anyone who might have issues with PTSD to the point that they try to avoid depictions of combat should be aware. If you get there 10 minutes before the start of the first matinee showing, you should be ok. Since we’re on the topic of previews, just because you are going to a kids’ movie, doesn’t mean that the previews are going to be kid-friendly. This is not the case in all theaters, but in some, they just show previews for all the movies they’ll be getting soon before all of the films they are currently showing, without worrying about the target audience. There have been times where I’ve had my hands over my kids’ eyes while they’ve had their hands over their ears, because a really graphic preview for a horror film would pop up on the screen before, say, Guardians of Ga’hoole. So, parents with small kids may just want to aim to go in just a few minutes before the start of the film and try to avoid the previews all together. Sometimes previews can be ear-splittingly loud. Usually the movie itself will be shown at a better volume. It is ok to speak to theater staff if the sound is way too loud, though.
Some theaters will sell you a ticket to the movie not to a specified time slot. In that case, you can just go in right away and check out the end of the movie if there is a showing already playing, and then stay for the next showing. (Incidentally, I just learned that this used to be common place in the United States back in the day, and only changed when Hitchcock insisted that theater owners sell tickets for specific showings to prevent people from seeing the end of Psycho before they’d seen the rest of the movie, thereby ruining the twist at the end. Fun fact.) Anyway, I think most foreigners are not used to that amount of fluidity with their viewing options, so tend to just wait until when the next showing is about to start to go in and sit down. But know that at those particular theaters, you may very well have a family of 10 people come walking in during a really intense scene halfway through the film and start distributing KFC or pizza to everyone with the intent of picnicking through the end of that showing and settling in once the movie starts again. We have a theater like this in our area and tend to avoid it unless it’s the only place we can see a certain film.
Movies are rated here, but they have their own ratings board. The ratings are G, PG, R-13, R-16 and R-18. G is ok for everyone. PG is considered ok for children under 13. R-13 has specific instances of nudity, sex, violence, drug use, etc, that are not suitable for children under 13. R-16 is the same sort of thing, only not suitable for youth under 16. R-18 isn’t suitable for youth under 18. Technically, they are not supposed to allow children under the age limit into those movies at all. I have never seen this enforced, and there are often families with young children in movies they are supposedly blocked from viewing. Personally, I figure no matter what my thoughts are about that, parents can make that choices for their own children. I am letting you know so that if you want to avoid young children at a viewing, you can pick a late showing or a matinee while school is in session. Also, there are so few G-rated movies here that any time there is one, it is family time, regardless of whether it’s a family movie. The Life of Pi is one such movie. The showing was full of families and the young children got really bored, really fast, and they got loud and distracting. So, plan accordingly. As far as what qualifies a movie for what rating, I cannot make heads or tails of it. I have taken my kids to G-rated films here, only to walk out of them and find out that it was rated PG-13 in the US. I’ve seen some PG films with characters who swore like sailors. Frankly, I’m afraid of what might happen in a R-18 movie. If you are a prude, like myself, or a parent, you may want to just do your own research on a site like Commonsense Media and make your own judgement call.
Last thing you should know is that they like to have film festivals here, and they may take over all or part of your favorite theater. Sometimes it will be a foreign film festival sponsored by one of the embassies, but there are also various Pinoy film festivals throughout the year. The largest of these takes place between Christmas and New Years where literally every theater other than IMAX screens are only allowed to show a handful of selected Filipino films. So, plan your Christmas Break activities accordingly, and make sure you get in to see the movies you want to see before Christmas, because more often than not, it’s all new movies when the film festival is over.
Man, this is a super long post, and some of it seems a little negative. Let’s recap the awesome: cheap tickets, assigned seats, bring your own food, cheap concessions, bathrooms right in the back of the theater, arrive on time and the movie will start as advertised! Woo, movies!