EDITORIAL: Hard modern times for Helsinki film-freaks
This week there will be 32 films to choose from in Helsinki's movie theatres. If we exclude from this list those features that are being screened only once a day - either as matinees or after 21:00 in the evening, a total of 18 films shown at the usual early evening peak slot remain for our entertainment.
A large slice of these are so strongly geared to the youth audience that The Simpsons Movie, which was officially released last Friday, actually stands out as a film for the more adult taste. This delicious animated social satire, which has run for 18 years on television before its transfer to the big screen, will appeal to rock-influenced generations across the board, even if the TV-show's main audience is teenagers.
The travails of Homer Simpson and his dysfunctional family are being shown on nine screens in the capital. Other cinemas are filled for instance by the fifth Harry Potter movie, by the cinema rendition of the children's TV sci-fi and robots animation Transformers, and by the third episode of Pirates of the Caribbean, now swashbuckling at World's End.
Just 11 years ago, the supply of films for the Finnish viewing public was on a very different footing.
According to this newspaper's Nyt weekly supplement from the last week of July 1996, there were then as many as 46 movies on general release in Helsinki.
There are a good few reasons for the decline in choice in the capital.
On grounds of cost-efficiency, movie theatres have increasingly morphed into multiplex affairs with several screens, and the small private operators have been squeezed out of the business.
In Helsinki, the trend took an even sharper turn last year, when the market leader Finnkino acquired the cinema operations of Sandrew Metronome Finland. The deal comprised Helsinki's oldest movie house, Maxim, dating from 1909, and the two large Kinopalatsi multiplexes in Turku and Helsinki.
At the end of the year, Finnkino's position in the region was strengthened still further when it took over the three-screen cinema that had been operating in the Iso Omena shopping mall in Espoo.
But the movie industry itself has also changed. The big studios invest their production dollars in fantasy figures that are known to the entire family, and the films and sequels crafted around these characters are marketed vigorously and simultaneously all over the world.
Then the film itself is launched amidst much media hype in as many theatres as possible. And when the core group of moviegoers is made up of teenagers, the films are designed with their tastes in mind.
The reduction in the number of individual films on display might prompt the hasty conclusion that movie theatres are currently experiencing heavy weather.
Quite the opposite is true - commercial success and the dreams of film-freaks are seemingly two very different things.
According to an article in Taloussanomat last week, Finnkino reports that attendances are up 40% this summer over the 2006 figures, and last year was no flop, either, but was one of the best cinema summers on record.
The main reason for the boom would appear to be that after a rather dreary start to the year this summer has seen the release of an exceptional number of blockbuster movies, and they have been excellent consumer items in their particular genres.
The shift of movies to become childish consumer products nevertheless generates sighs and a sense of longing among those for whom entering into the dimmed cinema auditorium is all about embarking on a magic-theatre experience.
Then again, many a moviegoer takes a laidback attitude to the way things are, seeing it purely from a consumer's perspective. The situation is well summed up by the comment from a 15-year-old boy after the latest Star Wars flick: "Well, no, it wasn't very good, but I'll still buy the DVD."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 30.7.2007