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(Image: Archi Banal)
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MediaDecember 3, 2021

Red alert: Movies at midnight and Auckland’s new normal

(Image: Archi Banal)
(Image: Archi Banal)

Auckland moved into the red setting of the traffic light system at 11.59pm last night, meaning the return of a whole lot of ‘normal’ activities – like going to the movies. Naomii Seah got straight into it with a midnight screening.

“Happy red alert, Dad.” 

The dashboard blinked. It now read 12.00am, Friday, December 3.   

My hands were gripped around the steering wheel, and I was suppressing the urge to scratch a zit that had emerged on my cheek. My dad and I were in the car, masked up, windows down. We were on our way to check out the new James Bond film that was released in Aotearoa way back in October. We’d be among the first in Auckland to see it. 

I’m sure many other Aucklanders will relate to the feeling of nervous excitement and pure exhaustion we felt as we rolled towards Monterey Cinemas Takapuna. And I’m not just talking about the exhaustion we felt from staying up till midnight. It’s been a long lockdown, after all. 

My dad is immunocompromised, but he’s been triple vaccinated as a result. I think he was more confident than I was about seeing a movie in public. 

When we arrived a few minutes past midnight, there was a queue out the theatre door. People were scanning in, and just inside, a staff member was checking vaccine passes. In a classic move, I forgot to have mine ready, and had to fumble around for it. Others, more prepared and better equipped than me, had their passes ready on their phone screens. I even saw one lady with a beautifully printed card. The queue moved fast, and before we knew it we were swept inside.

People queuing for the first movie screening of the red light system at Monterey Cinemas, Takapuna. (Images: Supplied by Author/edited by Sherry Zhang)

Upstairs there was a long (socially distanced) line for drinks and snacks. The people in line were a diverse mix of all ages, from teens and young adults to older citizens. Excited chattering filled the air. A staff member later told me they hadn’t expected to be this busy tonight. There was a sense of anticipation in the air that was – pardon the pun – infectious.

I heard one teen exclaim to their friends that it was good they’d bought tickets in advance. The teens looked around, wide-eyed. 

“This is a big deal,” one said. Their friends hummed in agreement. 

Dad and I dutifully joined the snacks line before he got bored and went in to sit down. I rejoined the queue later, to buy a $8 tub of popcorn that was enthusiastically dug into for the first half hour of the film, and then abandoned, still full of delicious buttery goodness. I guess some things never change.

But sitting there in the darkness of the cinema, there was that strange mix of the familiar and the new. My dad has been taking me to Hollywood action blockbusters – a favourite among boomer fathers – since I was a child. This time I was taking him. And in this new environment, I was also acutely aware of the need to be diligent with mask use. I wasn’t the only one to think so; people were visibly adjusting masks as they moved about the theatre, and ate and drank. It didn’t stop any of us from having a good time, though. The cinema was in good spirits, gasping, tutting and laughing along with the dialogue.

Despite there being absolutely nothing to cry over in the film, I found myself getting teary-eyed as I looked around the half-full cinema. Families were out in force. Friends too. Call me sentimental, but we were a little community, experiencing a piece of history together as Daniel Craig’s oiled abs filled the screen. 

As the credits rolled, one audience member clapped enthusiastically, not caring that no one joined in. It was 3am, but personally, I was energised. I came away from Monterey Cinemas a little more confident, and a little less anxious about the next stage of our pandemic response.

Then, arriving home for the first time in over four months, I collapsed – tired, but satisfied – into my childhood bed.

Keep going!