james debate
james debate

Wednesday 3 July 2019

james bond secret cinema casino royale daniel craig

Let me preface this by saying that I am a great fan of Secret Cinema and what they do. Secret Cinema presents: Casino Royale marks the fourth of their events that I have attended, the others being Back to the Future, Dirty Dancing, and 28 Days Later.

I love Casino Royale. I think it's a great movie and arguably the best of the James Bond franchise. There was an awful lot of potential here for an immersive experience and for the chance for people to live out those secret agent fantasies that we have all had. And while I certainly had a great time with Casino Royale, I have to say it was easily the weakest of the four.

Secret Cinema's latest offering has an awful lot going for it. After purchasing tickets, the company sends you details to help set up a secret identity and mission for the evening. You select an alias, are assigned a job, and have the option of purchasing costume and prop items. The latter, obviously, Secret Cinema's way of monetizing the event as much as possible, but nevertheless the quality of the items we ordered was actually not too bad. You are given a contact to seek out at the venue, and told to bring business cards to cement your fictional identity.

A similarly pleasing effort has also been put into the crafting of the immersive environment itself, a Dagenham warehouse impressively converted to recreate four different countries which form the setting of the film. Upon arrival, you are given some fake casino money, told to seek out a particular item or individual, which involves traveling to the various locations and chatting to the various actors and other attendees in order to gain the information you require. Spy stuff, basically, and it's undoubtedly entertaining.

There are a few reasons why it doesn't all work as well as it should, and the main one is timing. Casino Royale has a fairly muscular two and a half hour running time, which means that the showing needs to start that much earlier. On top of this, the entire evening begins with an unnecessarily long introduction, which for some reason they can only provide to a small group of attendees at a time. As a result, entrance is gained very slowly and in batches. We arrived right at the scheduled time, and it still took us over an hour to get into the event. By the time we were through the gates, there was probably less than an hour left to explore this massive warehouse before the film screening began. It's barely enough time to complete your mission, and certainly not enough time to both complete your mission and explore the other areas. As it happened, we never had the time to even set foot in one of the four countries. I advise attendees to choose between doing the mission or exploring, you won't have time for both.

In hindsight, it's probably just as well that there is so little time before the screening, because there actually isn't all that much to do in this immersive world. Back to the Future had an entire town full of shops, fairgrounds, a school dance and other activities. Dirty Dancing had dance classes, mini-golf, arts and crafts, etc. Even 28 Days Later, another indoors Secret Cinema, had a base camp bustling with games and activities. Casino Royale, by contrast, feels strangely devoid of anything to do other than the brief assignment you are given.

And unfortunately this is not the only example of the presentation being little more than skin deep. The assignment itself is fun, but ultimately pointless, with no consequence or reward for completion. Those business cards you brought? Pointless, they just pick an actor's card for the introduction (seriously don't go out of your way to order/print anything special). That casino money? Sure it can be used at the cards tables of the casino, but there are only two tables in a room containing more than a thousand people. Unless you head straight there and spend your hour queuing up, you won't get a chance to play.

The main problem is a familiar one for Secret Cinema: too many people crammed into too spare an environment, all in the name of a desperate attempt to recoup the expenses of their increasingly extravagant projects. I mean really all the money they spent to recreate four countries' worth of settings, in which the audience ultimately spends no more than a few minutes at most, has to be one of the most absurdly indulgent wastes of money in the history of the concept. The other problem is something new for the company: paucity of ideas. And that's more worrying.

Secret Cinema's attempt at James Bond provides a fun, albeit all too brief, opportunity to live out your secret agent fantasies. The film itself is still as strong as ever, but the whole product sadly falls short of what we know the immersive entertainment industry can provide.

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