The Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in film and media junkies plumbing the depths of whatever streaming services are available both for new films and old favourites. One thing that has been discussed in certain circles is the re-emergence of drive in screenings. Outside of Christmas events drive ins are not really a thing in the UK. That said the organisation that runs these Christmas events around the UK The Drive In Cinema clearly saw an opportunity here to showcase what they can offer to a wider audience with one of these outdoor screenings being one of the few event based entertainment options in the pandemic age As someone who had never been to one of these I was a little bit sceptical of how it would work but I convinced myself to book a place telling myself that it was something I could tick off the cinemagoing bucket list. Toy Story seemed like an obvious choice as a diehard Pixar fan also enabling me to tick off another screening / event related to my favourite production house in my specialist subjects genre ( that list includes all the 3D releases and several Edinburgh Film Festival UK premieres.) I own multiple copies of all the Pixar films across several formats ( DVD, Blu Ray, Blu Ray 3D, 4K Blu Ray, streaming on Disney +) and part of me was still extremely hesitant to pay the exorbitant £35 a car for that event. nevertheless, I bit the bullet and me and my dad went along with an open mind.
After turning up a good half hour before the gates to the event opened and still being greeted with a relatively long line of cars preparing to watch a 25 year old film that is one of the most widely accessible around ( if anything the fact that the screening sold out was one of the most impressive things about it.) Our car made it into the second row and thus had a decent view despite being at an angle. The film was being projected on a blow-up screen, but it did not look that dissimilar to the kind of presentation you might see during a theatrical rerelease. Once the gates opened, we were greeted by staff members taking appropriate precautions as they let people in. Once we had gotten inside attendees what told to tune the car radios to a specific FM frequency to access the audio for the evening. For the next 45 minutes the station played a selection of generic pop music while advertisement on the screen showcased the various sponsors for the screening and encouraged patrons to invest in snacks and drinks that were offered in a separate building ( as with everywhere in Scotland face covering was mandatory for indoor locations,)
At 9:15 PM the event began in earnest with a host offering up a selection of pop culture and themed trivia before the screening began. The section was nothing to write home about in many ways but I appreciated that’s some level of effort had gone into organising this section and allowing everyone to participate from the safety of their own cars using a combination of car indicators and Facebook Messenger. It did mean the host had a captive audience for his mediocre jokes and cringe inducing Russell Crowe impression (butchering a famous Gladiator monologue) but the organisers could have very easily kept this at a vanilla screening of a 75 minute film and it’s encouraging but they wanted to turn this into an evening’s entertainment under the circumstances The audio transmission was surprisingly seamless although you did have to make sure the radio was consistently turned on There was still the question of whether this would truly work for a full film.
At roughly 9:40 PM after the pre-show concluded the film finally began. The first Toy Story isn’t my most watched Pixar but I know it well enough to quote all the lines everyone remembers before they are said. This was a major benefit of the screening along with being able to participate in your own You Got A Friend In Me or Strange Things karaoke without thinking about how it might make you look to the other patrons Beyond the freedom to quote the dialogue as if you were watching at home. one immediately noticeable element for someone who is used to how the film looks in its Blu Ray and 3D editions is that watching from some level of distance makes the animation looks significantly less dated which was definitely the biggest positive of this screening from a presentation perspective. The way in which natural light and darkness contrasted with the scenes onscreen didn’t help those scenes that already have a darker colour palette but considering the only major scene with darker colour tones is at the gas station before the arrival at Pizza Planet this was not a huge issue. The audio transmission for was very effective and I dare say the watching on a decent car sound system ( which the car I was in definitely has) is far superior to using inbuilt TV speakers in the way that I’m used to. Overall while I think the experience was a little on the pricey side I am not going to lie and say that I was not impressed with how everything was surprisingly seamless in terms of integration.
The one major drawback of the experience overall was the time commitment. Based on my experience I would recommend adding another two hours to the runtime of your film in terms of how long you are going to spend at one of these events. It was a solid evening’s entertainment but bear in mind if an audience member is watching a screaming over two hours they are likely going to be at the event until well past midnight once you factor in the time spent getting out of the venue and back on the road. From our placement in the second row it took us about twenty minutes to exit and after setting out at 7:00 PM with the event location fifteen minutes away we were not back until 11:30 PM. This is something to consider if potential viewers are looking at booking one of these screenings.
I had a surprisingly positive experience at The Drive In Cinema Aberdeen. It was easy to tell that this company had put on events like this previously and have it down to a fine art even with the limitations of the pandemic. if they lowered the price to £20-25 per car and put on some new release films I would consider going to another screening. Certainly with Aberdeen making national and international news for having local lockdown imposed in the week after this screening even if I was a bit hesitant initially I’m very glad I got the chance to experience one of these events when it was available.