Movies are back, but is the drive-in the 'new normal' cinema?

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SM Mall of Asia’s Drive-in cinema is both a theatrical and intimate experience, perhaps one of the ‘new normal’ modes of the big screen experience for now. Photo by JL JAVIER

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — What was the last movie you saw on the big screen?

“Onward” was in the middle of its initial run during the first week of March when rumors of the lockdown were only bubbling up in our group chats. Of course I didn’t have an inkling that a story of loss, though dealt in a fantastical way, would be my last time inside the theater for a while.

Back then, I was worried that kids (well, it is a children’s film) would interrupt the movie. They already had some questions a few minutes in and, of course, there were more. But in the end, it turned out I was noisier than them: I laughed — and cried — harder than any of the tots. I remember laughing my ass off hours after the movie, remembering very specific moments (the dragon, most especially) and quoting lines (“You got a problem, shades?” in a pixie voice).

So it was a pleasant surprise to finally watch a movie on the big screen again recently at the Mall of Asia Drive-in Cinema. It was a bit disconcerting to watch “Train 2 Busan Presents: Peninsula” as the first theatrical release since the pandemic began. In “Peninsula,” the virus has wiped out all of South Korea and most of its citizens are refugees now or are living in the decimated country, Mad Max-style. The drive-in cinema affords you both a theatrical and intimate experience, as you’re watching inside your car yet without the disappearing trick afforded by the traditional black box cinema.

Open air theaters have been revived as a way to bring back the experience of watching movies since the pandemic began. The Venice Film Festival, brave as it is to push through with the screenings despite being in Northern Italy, one of the COVID-19 hotspots in the world (but they have since mitigated the impact of the virus), have done screenings at theaters and outdoor sites such as an ice-skating rink area and the Venice Biennale’s gardens.

Theaters around the world are opening, though at 30 to 50 percent capacities. Delayed films are slowly trickling down in cinemas, such as the much-anticipated “Tenet,” (which has so far raked in $150 million) and the first superhero film of the moment, “The New Mutants.” Disney has opted to push the live action adaptation of “Mulan” to a mix of offline and online release, particularly in their streaming platform Disney+. The film is reported to have an opening sales of $5.9 million so far.

For now, the SM Cinema Drive-in is an exciting option for movie fans. The venue is located at the Mall of Asia concert grounds and has a capacity of up to 106 cars, with 2-4 people in each vehicle. Starting September 9, there is only one screening each day (Wednesday to Sundays) at 6:45 p.m., with “Peninsula” being the inaugural film. Tickets are at ₱400, which already comes with regular sized-popcorn, beef franks, and bottled water. All tickets should be booked in advance as there are no tickets sold at the venue.

“Peninsula” was a great movie to start the drive-in experience. The shock tactics of the film (though underscored by K-drama style of, well, drama) is in line with the B-movie fare that populated drive-in theaters when it began in the 1930s in the U.S. It was thrilling, the experience amplified by the excitement of being able to watch in the cinemas again.

Temperature check and passenger count will be made at the gate. All tickets shall be booked in advance and patrons are advised to be at the venue 30 minutes before the screening. Photo by JL JAVIER

A packet will be handed at the second stop. This contains a contact tracing sheet (or the QR code), a menu for the concession stand, and the FM radio dial that you can tune in so you can hear the movie. Photo by JL JAVIER

Tickets are at ₱400, which already comes with regular sized-popcorn, beef franks, and bottled water. Photo by JL JAVIER

The parking layout is curved similar to the regular cinema seating. Smaller cars are placed in the first few rows so they won't be obscured by bigger cars. Photo by JL JAVIER

IATF safety rules are enforced in the venue. Pets are, sadly, not allowed. Photo by JL JAVIER

Starting September 9, there is only one screening each day (Wednesday to Sundays) at 6:45 p.m., with “Train 2 Busan Presents: Peninsula” being the inaugural film. Photo by JL JAVIER

Screenings are from Wednesdays to Sundays at 6:45 p.m. only. Photo by JL JAVIER

The venue can accommodate up 106 cars (limited to enclosed vehicles only) per screening. Only guests between 21 to 59 years old will be admitted regardless of movie rating, so bring an ID just in case you get carded. Photo by JL JAVIER

Got to smtickets.com for more information.