Apologies for the corny title. I promise I wasn't just struggling to think of a Star Warsy title. Although the Secret Cinema this year is titled 'The Empire Strikes Back', it's 1977's 'A New Hope' (the first Star Wars movie) which a large part of the experience is modeled upon. And it's in the hot and sandy Tattooine-inspired marketplace that your imagination is first allowed to run riot. That's where I spent most of my time, and wow, what an experience it was. The sights, the smells, the sounds, and the sheer vastness of the set is truly mind-boggling.
I've always wanted to do a blog about immersive cinema, so here it is. Initially a sceptic (80 gallactic credits per ticket had me horrified), I donned my critical cap and went for it.
But the reality is that Secret Cinema, I really, really, really, really, really, really like you.
I just love what Secret Cinema does; it makes you feel special. From the second you arrive, disguised, and in-character (you're assigned a unique ID) you're made to feel like part of the film. Excited, and slightly nervous (the actors are very convincing!) you're then ushered onwards through a series of impressive other-worldy surroundings, before being transported to another even more impressive realm, where you're quest begins. Stepping out onto that set you leave memories of groggy central London far, far behind.
The whole concept of Secret Cinema is novel, and in a time when a fiver a month can give you unlimited access to movies, it's revolutionizing film. Don't get me wrong, Netflix is great, but it's nothing on what Secret Cinema does. It makes us fall in love with movies again, and on this occasion it reminded Star Wars fans why they did in the first place.
The mind blowing venue is just one part of the allure (and no I can't tell you where, it's a secret, duh). Add to this the element of mystery (the location is only revealed to ticket holders at the 10th hour), and you're onto something. Throw in around 200 truly superb actors and actresses, and you've got yourself a real game-changer.
If you are wondering, like so many SC virgins, how immersive cinema differs from traditional cinema, and makes the hefty price-tag worthwhile, let me tell you. The quality of the experience itself depends on you. You are offered numerous opportunities to engage with the many actors scattered across the sprawling set, and it's down to you, as a member of the audience, as to how you choose to let you're your experience play out. My friend had an argument with Chewbakka after cheekily trying to barter his way to a secret area. I learnt how to use the force, a skill which proved very useful later in the evening, though I wont reveal why. I even saw a group of fans huddled around R2-D2, seemingly having a conversation with him. To my disappointment his other robot counterpart must have been hiding, which wouldn't be hard in a set as large as this. Sprawling across several large rooms, it's physically impossible to see it all. We tried, believe me, we tried.
Without giving too much away, I can say that we weren't left disappointed, all expectations were fulfilled. We took part in an important missions, booed Darth Vader (who was huge and terrifying by the way) , and knocked back weird and wonderful (and strong may I add), Star Wars themed cocktails in a bar that looked like something out of this world. The live music was a bonus, and added to the 'no expenses spared' feel to the evening.
With our senses overwhelmed, when we sat down to watch 'The Empire Strikes Back', towards the end of the evening, the whole experience was heightened. Oohs and ahhhs and booos and 'nooooos' from the excited audience punctuated this film (but I can't tell you why, that would spoil it). What I can say is that this experience was worth every penny. Secret Cinema isn't just 'watching a film', it's so, so much more than that. You feel like you're actually a part of the film, a member of the cast.
I entered SC a sceptic, and a Star Wars Newbee, but by the end of the night I found myself dancing away, lightsaber in hand. Five hours in this crazy place, (and boy did this time fly) and I felt like I'd been a fan my whole life. My only regret? Waiting 'til 24 to discover Star Wars.