SINGAPORE - The cinema scene in the west of Singapore had been in the doldrums for years. The famed Jurong Drive-In closed in 1985.
Golden Village opened its Jurong Point venue in 1995. Shaw Organisation's outlet at the Jurong Entertainment Centre had actually opened first, in 1993, but it shut in 2008 when the building was demolished to make way for the JCube mall. This left Golden Village the lone operator in that area. When JCube opened last year, Shaw's cineplex came back with it.
Then late last month, the last of the Big Three cinema chains arrived when Cathay Organisation opened its Cathay Cineplex Jem, an outlet that outclasses its rivals in the west in both the number of halls and seats. Jem and JCube are both close to the Jurong East MRT station, while Golden Village Jurong Point is three stops further west, at the Boon Lay station.
For moviegoers in the area, having the choice of three multiplexes compared with no choice just two years ago is, of course, a bonus. But size and newness is not everything.
In fact, it can be the least of the factors patrons care about. For people who have to pay $9 or more for a ticket and another $7 for a small drink and a box of popcorn, there are other considerations, such as comfort, overall cleanliness, image and sound quality, how easy it is to book online and in person, and the range of titles available.
My review of the three cineplexes contain a couple of surprises. For example, while Golden Village might be the oldest of the three, it scores well in legroom and toilet facilities (for men at least). It is also the venue with the most easily visible and accessed lobby.
Last Friday, I went to Jurong to test-drive one hall in each in the three multiplexes. I watched the same film, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (above), in all three halls.
The Peter Jackson-directed fantasy-adventure movie was picked because, unlike others, it would be guaranteed slots in all chains, in the widest selection of formats (3-D, Imax, Dolby 7.1 and so on). This allowed me to compare video and audio quality.
I did not watch the film in its entirety, but made sure I stayed long enough to catch the Mirkwood spider attack scene. In this sequence, there is fast motion, strong contrast of light and dark and sound that comes from all directions - the placement of objects on screen is easier for the eyes when the ears can hear sounds that are placed crisply and accurately in 3-D space.
The selection of screens in each multiplex was decided for me by what was immediately available upon exiting one cineplex and entering the next.
So, in sequence, I watched the 1.20pm show at Shaw JCube, the 2.25pm screening at Cathay Jem and the 4.15pm screening at Golden Village Jurong Point.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.