In the exhausting, hellraising first few weeks as a new parent, you learn a great deal in a short time. As well as mastering how to function on a fraction of the sleep you used to enjoy, assembling an array of needlessly complicated pieces of equipment, and grasping the concept that you’re now responsible for keeping somebody other than yourself alive, you also have to do some mourning. Amid all the new furniture and mounds of tiny clothing, you bid goodbye to the word ‘casual’, because, all of a sudden, nothing will be casual again.
No more casual drinks, no casual dinners, casual offers of last-minute tickets to shows, concerts or exhibitions – your evenings are spoken for. All of them. The kind of evenings out that used to be settled in a few WhatsApp messages now require weeks’ worth of planning. And, in amongst all that, trips to the movies die a death.
You will venture out with your partner again, I promise, but evenings out together become reserved for special occasions. Nice dinners or nights at the theater. Sadly, the movies don’t tend to feature in that, because however much joy they used to bring you, they get forgotten.
I have to say, blockbuster directors aren’t making it any easier with their current taste for seriously meaty runtimes. If you do decide to head to the movies and book a babysitter, a three-hour movie with the usual array of ads and trailers, plus travel time, will keep you out past midnight unless you sit down bang on 7pm. It’s particularly hard to sit there, waiting for Marvel to finish crediting their thousands of VFX effects artists so you can see that post-credit sting, when you’re paying a babysitter by the hour. No wonder people are preparing to wait for films to come to streaming services.
There are ways around it. You and your partner can take it in turns to go to something. I remember walking out of the press show of Tenet and buying my wife a ticket for the following weekend, mostly because I couldn’t stand the idea of not being able to talk about it. But the shared magic of seeing the biggest films on the biggest screen? You might well be kissing that goodbye for a decade.
But I’m here to tell you about a loophole. A short-time offering. A hack where during the first year of your new baby’s life you could find yourself seeing more movies on the big screen than you did before. It’s called Baby Cinema.
It goes by many names. In the UK, it’s pretty much just Baby Cinema, but in the US, you’ve got the likes of Rattle and Reel, Reel Moms and Cry Babies. The idea is the same. Bring your newborn to the movie theater and enjoy the latest releases. And, for me and my wife at least, it’s an absolute joy.
If you’re lucky, your baby will sleep and the cinema-goers do everything they can to help that along. The lights aren’t turned down all the way, the rooms are warm, and the sound is lower than it would normally be. And, even if the babies don’t sleep, or if they wake up demanding milk or a walk around, nobody will judge you. Everyone is in the same situation.
Lots of places do it. Particular favorites of mine are the Genesis in Stepney Green and Screen On The Green in Islington. The Genesis is particularly great. The couches are very comfortable, the staff is friendly and the snacks and coffee are tip-top. And it’s there I took my baby daughter to see The Batman.
Fantastic Sleeps and Where To Find Them…
When any director sits down to outline their vision for a movie, it’s unlikely they’d take parents trying to coax their babies to sleep into consideration, but it can be revealing about a movie, particularly its pacing and plotting.
Edgar Wright told me once that he knew Mad Max: Fury Road was such an exceptional film because he believed you could watch it with the sound off and still follow what’s going on: such was its visual storytelling. He’s right and not just about that. Recent baby cinema trips to see Dune and No Time To Die proved that for me. They are confident films made by confident filmmakers that show how much tone, momentum and clarity of narrative matter.
It exposes the mediocre too. The muddled plotting of the Fantastic Beasts sequel, where so much of the film’s plot turns on a single conversation between the characters, was exposed by the need for a nappy change for my then one-month-old son. Nothing made sense afterwards. (Not that much of the first half of it did either.)
Sometimes, you can’t blame the film for a bad experience, the unexpected can just happen. Vice, Christian Bale’s brutal portrayal of scheming Vice-President Dick Cheney, seemed like a nice fit for a Saturday morning baby cinema trip. A quiet, talky drama, I figured my then four-month-old son would sleep through the whole thing. Mostly he did, right up until the invasion of Iraq, when the sound of a barrel bomb exploding woke him up so violently that he pooped right through his onsie. I didn’t see the rest of the film.
And not every film works for babies. A friend told me that he’d taken his two-month-old son to see Christopher Nolan’s World War II masterpiece Dunkirk. He and his wife, fearing they’d miss the chance to see Nolan’s extravaganza on the biggest of screens, where all his films are meant to be viewed, had booked tickets before their son was born. Sadly, Hans Zimmer’s powerful tic-a-tic, tic-a-tic rattling score, which does so much to propel the action for adult viewers, proved to be a unique kind of torture for the babies, and, by the time Tom Hardy’s Farrier and his Spitfire made their first appearance just before the 10-minute mark, he was the only one left in the cinema.
How did The Batman fare?
Director Matt Reeves’ blacker than the darkest espresso take not only suits the Caped Crusader, it also suited my daughter, who slept through quite a lot of it, though the gargantuan running time did mean she woke up before the end, and, burst into tears during the epic car chase between Batman and Colin Farrell’s Penguin.
It passed Wright’s test: the grand action set-pieces, the lavish design and Robert Pattinson’s charisma in the cowl. It is much, much too long, but it made for great baby cinema. Along with Dune, No Time To Die, and Licorice Pizza, it’s been a great recent run of trips for my wife and me enjoying strange little date days when the prospect of a date night are few and far between.
Sadly, we can already see our days in Baby Cinema are numbered. My baby daughter is just over six months old, but she’s already pushing her legs in a way that suggests she’ll be crawling in days rather than weeks. This ought to be a source of great personal pride, but it is oddly bittersweet. Officially, you can take a child into Baby Cinema up until the age of one, but once they can move on their own, it’s basically game over, they’re never satisfied with sitting still again. I learned this the hard way. My son had barely been crawling for three days when we took him to Baby Cinema for what turned out to be the final time. I spent the duration of Richard Curtis’ Yesterday lying in front of the screen, trying to form a human barrier as he persistently tried to crawl his way out of the fire exit.
Baby Cinema has been a joy for us, an anchor in a time where everything seems so random. We’re just hoping our daughter can hold off crawling for long enough to see if the Fantastic Beasts franchise can redeem itself next month…
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Tom Goodwyn was formerly TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor. He's now a freelancer writing about TV shows, documentaries and movies across streaming services, theaters and beyond. Based in East London, he loves nothing more than spending all day in a movie theater, well, he did before he had two small children…