Cinema’s battle to be accepted as art was won years ago. But when it comes to presentation, film is still a bit behind its artistic cousins. When displaying the Mona Lisa you wouldn’t simply throw it up on any wall; it needs displaying the right way. Movies don’t quite get the same treatment. While fleapit cinemas push nostalgia and multiplexes play the convenience card, there’s been a drive in recent years do give film the presentation it deserves. Joining the charge is the Luna Cinema experience.
Taking a large cinema screen to unique locations across the country Luna Cinema are adding an extra dimension to watching the movie classics you love. Jaws (1975) in front of the bright blue water of the Dulwich Park Lido? Yes please. My home town, the Medway Towns in Kent, has a range of distinctive locales from Napoleonic forts, to castles and cathedrals. Central to it all is the Historic Dockyard. A sprawling heritage site, the Dockyard was the centre of ship building in the south east for centuries, until its closure in the early nineteen eighties. The loss of the Dockyard almost crippled Medway economically, but the towns bounced back and the Dockyard was reinvented as a tourist attraction and filming location.
Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Jude Law and Robert Downey Jnr grace the Dockyard
Its range of unique architecture and buildings has been the backdrop for a host of television programs and movies, from The Mummy (1999), The World Is Not Enough (1999), Children of Men (2006) and The Bank Job (2008). Guy Ritchie made extensive use of a number of different Dockyard locations for Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (2011). Television programs Call The Midwife and Mr. Selfridge currently use the Dockyard as home turf. Working in the building directly next to the Dockyard and parking in the Dockyard itself has given me access to many sets as they were constructed. The transformation is always fascinating. So it was doubly exciting in 2012 when it was announced that the Tom Hooper adaptation of Les Miserables (2012) was coming to town. The Dockyard morphed into eighteenth century France, and necks were craned as we peered out of office windows to catch glimpses of Russell Crowe on horseback, Hugh Jackman with period sideburns and Anne Hathaway with a shaved head.
Russell Crowe on set at the Dockyard
It made perfect sense then for Luna Cinema to stage a special showing of Les Miserables at the Dockyard on Saturday 18th May. Booking our tickets we headed up the steps of the towering Slip 3 shipyard building (see the grey roofed building above) where battleships of years gone by were built. Luna constructed their large movie screen on the top floor of the Slip, with the gaps in the thick wooden floor an unnerving fifty feet above the Slip floor and its menagerie of historic vehicles. But what a setting; an architectural masterpiece, the wooden eaves created a look not unlike an industrial cathedral. And though cliched to say, there was genuine history in the air.
Stacking out a good picnic spot
The Luna staff introduced Les Mis with the help of a two of the slightly lesser known actors in the film who shared amusing anecdotes from the shoot (the male cast in the opening rope pull scene were instructed to keep warm by peeing in their wet suits; the stench at the end of each days filming with Hugh Jackman’s urine, among others, swilling round their feet was particularly funky). As the first scenes played out, the sound echoed around the antique structure with the sort of acoustic wonder most multiplexes can only dream of. The sun gradually set and the shadows of wooden beams flickered with Hooper’s three hour epic as we spotted all the Dockyard locales as they were graced by the cast scene by scene. Accompanying film nibbles? The Luna Cinema allows you to bring your own picnic, so out came the red wine, French stick and fromage.
Javert makes his first appearance as the sun begins to set on Slip 3
Les Miserables has raised the bar for cinematic musicals. Having the actors sing their lines live on set caused a bit of a stir amongst traditionalists, but the result was a soundtrack with an impact ten times that of other musicals. Moulin Rouge! (2001) and Chicago (2002) sound hollow and lifeless in comparison. Anne Hathaway won many a plaudit for her tear-jerking work, and rightly so. And while no one could debate the quality of Daniel Day Lewis’ turn in Lincoln (2012), Hugh Jackman really was hard done by for not winning the Best Actor Oscar. Maintaining his acting performance whilst delivering lung busting tune after emotion packed song, the Aussie is astounding. Director Hooper was caught between a rock and a hard place in deciding whether to follow the stage show scene for scene or not. Choosing the former resulted in a movie that is perhaps fifteen / twenty minutes too long. The duel between Jean Valjean and Javert being the drive of the story, the film reaches its dramatic peak when Crowe as Javert finally pitches himself off a bridge; the epilogue scenes that follow drag on a bit too long.
The perfect combination of site, sound and setting
But in the majestic setting of Chatham Dockyard’s Slip 3 Les Mis could have carried on for another hour or two and no one would have minded. The end credits were met with hearty applause. The evening was made all the more enjoyable by the Luna Cinema staff on hand to make sure everyone was having a good time, whether it was taking photos for people or serving an array of snacks and drinks. This is how the art of cinema should be, unique, memorable and complementary to the piece. So if you fancy taking part in the ultimate movie viewing experience, take yourself off to the Luna Cinema website to check out their up coming shows. It'll be a movie experience you'll remember for a lifetime.