This account is more or less an unedited stream of consciousness, written in an airport. So y'know, sorry if it doesn't make total sense.
I promised myself that this time it would be
different. I wouldn’t get caught up in to the hype machine, the publicity
juggernaut. After the disaster of ‘the dark times’, I would be measured in my
anticipation and excitement. And yet here I am, sitting in an airport, waiting
to travel a thousand kilometres to attend the midnight screening I still don’t
technically have a ticket for.
Somewhere in October, after seeing the second trailer for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, I was calmly convinced that the series was in safe hands, and going to have the combination of nostalgia and innovation to it that I could trust. JJ Abrams and his team had me at “Chewie, we’re home.” I decided not to look at any further preview footage of the movie, and to avoid as much media coverage as possible, right down to averting my eyes from the toys now in stores. I just wanted to go in cold, and be as pleasantly surprised as possible. To this end, I decided I would make a special trip out of it, and see it in full IMAX.
This is the reason for the travel. I live in Brisbane, a town where in 2003, the owners of our IMAX cinema, in their infinite wisdom and foresight, decided to cease operation. The building was purchased by a local budget cinema chain (good), but they cropped the IMAX screen to a regular 2.35:1 ratio (bad, especially when THE DARK KNIGHT came a long a few years later and made the giant screen profitable again). In addition to this, Sydney’s IMAX in Darling Harbour recently got renovated, and now boasts the largest IMAX screen in the world. They also have the 15/70mm projectors, which in layman’s terms, basically means the biggest/best/shiniest/chromiest version of the film that someone like me could wish for.
“Fair enough,” you say. “But that doesn’t explain why you would go without a ticket.” And you’re right, it doesn’t. Here’s what happened: October 20th, tickets for THE FORCE AWAKENS went on sale in Australia. Well, they did in most places. As I sat at my computers (yes, there was a back-up running just in case) at 6:45am, patiently hitting refresh every 60 seconds or so, I wasn’t nervous. We’re 15 years into the 21st century after all, and broadband has been around long enough now for people who work in this area to know what is going to be required, even on a record heavy traffic day.
Or so you’d think.
7am – the official on sale time – rolls around, and the screen goes from a quick refresh of the ‘not yet on sale’ message to… nothing. No problem, just congestion - this is to be expected. Refresh both computers. Nothing is happening. For a long time. Juuuust big ol’ patches of nothing happening. I check other web pages, all coming up fine. I become nervous. I consult IMAX Sydney’s FORCE AWAKENS facebook page. Everyone seems to be having the same problem, which momentarily relieves the anxiety – until updates begin appearing from people in line at the box office who have their tickets. IMAX are selling to people who are physically at the location, while no-one else is able to purchase.
I refresh the IMAX ticket page. Still nothing. Ten minutes go by. All the best seats (the centre of the rows from the middle to the back of the cinema) will have gone by now. If you’ve never been in an IMAX before, never sit down in the front corners. It’s a complete waste of money, whatever anyone there tries to tell you. Fifteen minutes go by. Anxiety leads to fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Suffering at any rate, for the useless twat who hasn’t booked enough server space to cope with the rush for tickets that should have been calculated in by any half-way competent head of IT.
People on the facebook page are starting to lose their shit. The IMAX box office phones are also not being answered. 30 minutes go by. While I’m holding onto some kind of stiff upper lip delusion, still no official response from IMAX through any of their social media channels. Eventually, after more than 40 minutes, a message appears on the facebook page. A cheery ‘due to heavy traffic, we’re having technical difficulties with our web booking service at the moment, soz!’ sort of thing, which only serves to enrage me more. All hope is lost. Even though I can’t check the website to see, I know that the midnight session will be totally sold out. Not even the shitty front corners will remain. The hate is flowing through me now, and I snap, leaving a post on the facebook page that I’m not proud of but still technically stand behind.
But soon another post appears on the facebook page. A post claiming that someone has queued at the box office and bought tickets for the wrong session. They wanted tickets to 12:01 Friday, and have tickets to 12:01 Thursday by mistake. Straight away this looks waaaay too good to be true, and is so covered in red flags it could pass as a member of the Emperor's Royal Guard. But there’s something about it. The person is asking face value (yes, another red flag), not seeking advance payment online (not out of this yet), and crucially, claims they themselves are still going - it's just their friends who can't make it; if I got the ticket, I would go through the box office with them and be sat right next to them. I take the chance, contact the seller, and secure myself one of these tickets; never tell me the odds.
Even without committing any money, I’m at first deeply suspicious of this whole course of action, but I’m keeping a lid on it. Then a few weeks later, I get a text message from the seller saying they have changed their mobile number, and are just keeping in touch. Coincidence? Maybe. Huge fucking red flag? Equally possible. I develop a sinking feeling in my stomach, and begin to research ticketing fraud. PARANOIA! I decide to go CSI on this person’s ass – I pretty much cyberstalk them, backtracking from the gumtree ad, and unless they’re committing major identity fraud on some poor unsuspecting rube (which is not beyond the realm of possibility, according to my research), I know their full name, their phone number, where they work, and what they look like. I may have actually been disappointed that I didn’t have a photograph to ‘enhance’ in some very flash piece of hi-tech identifying software. I’m halfway to calling the cops and setting up a sting on this person, but I don’t know how I’d explain the “if we actually go into the cinema, you can cancel the whole operation” part. Because I still want to believe that everything is going to work out. I begin to understand how people get caught up in email scams. All this could yet turn out to be my Nigerian Prince story. But as I’ve not parted with any money, I keep it under my hat.
Now, I’ve got form for this – a have quite a long history of doing seemingly bizarre things to see movies. In the pre-internet age, I entered a phone competition about fifty times a day for two weeks to win free movies, popcorn and coke every day for a year. There was some method to the madness – it was a game of skill (and trivia) to begin with, so I knew approximately how much I was strengthening my odds. It worked, and it turned out pretty handy as it was what remains my only university year; Hoyts cinemas Adelaide became my home away from home, and free kitchen. I can claim with reasonable confidence that I was the first person in Australia to buy tickets for at THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Yes I've done the marathons: Theatrical versions? Tick. Extended editions? Tick. In cinema? Yup - although I'm far from the Lone Ranger there, of course. In the days when I actually got paid to do stuff like this, I, along with two stoic (equally foolish) friends watched what was then all twenty Bond films back to back. It was a laugh. In fact, the first marathon the three of us did was all six Star Wars movies for the first time on DVD. On another occasion I actually queued from 5am on a Sunday December morning outside Odeon Leicester Square to the press screening of KING KONG. Why?! No one else turned up until 7! They can't all be brilliant decisions...
And that’s the question: why? I honestly couldn’t tell you. It’s just what I do - it’s how I have fun. Dorky? A bit. Pointless? Probably, but it’s a better way to pass the time than plotting assassinations of Rupert Murdoch.
So yes, it probably seems like madness to fly 500 miles (and 500 back) on such a long shot, where I’m so vulnerable a target. But the alternative would mean a) passing on a potentially incredibly fun experience and b) never knowing either way – and maybe that’s worse; I’d rather be crushed by disappointment than eaten away by doubt.
And then this morning I received another text from the seller. They wanted to know if everything was still good, and despite the news – I shit you not – actually reporting of a fucking tornado tearing through southern Sydney as we were texting, I replied in the affirmative. And when I did it, I included a little Star Wars in-joke. And you know what? They got it straight away. They replied that they were at the beginning of their marathon in preparation for tonight’s event. It was like – if I may mix my influences here – it was like the rays of the sun shining through the Staff of Ra onto the map of Tanis. I have a good feeling about this...
Despite writing this before my flight, I learned that Brisbane domestic airport has no wifi, and so this was published after landing in Sydney.