Luke, I Am Your…Intermission

While en route from Gozo to Budapest, we stayed overnight in Malta’s capital city of Valetta. We also took the opportunity to watch Pirates of the Caribbean in the local very modern and pleasant multiplex.

It’s modern in all respects but one–there’s an intermission in the film. I’d read this online a few months ago, and didn’t really believe that it was true.

And yet, during a tense scene between Kiera Knightley and Chow Yun Fat (that’s not a spoiler as far as I’m concerned), while Kiera (who’s beautiful, but always looks like she has too many teeth for her mouth) was in mid-line, the film stopped. The screen displayed one groovy graphic that read “Intermission”, and most of the audience wandered outside for…what…cigarettes, refreshments and the toilets.

In the middle of a scene. The intermission seemed more or less randomly selected. Or, maybe it’s stipulated that it’s exactly two-thirds of the way through the film. In any case, it struck me as utterly ridiculous.

There are plenty of times when you shouldn’t judge another culture’s practices, but this ain’t one of them. Nearly all films are created to be viewed in one sitting, uninterrupted (the only exception I can think of is Kenneth Brannagh’s four-hour Hamlet). I’d have no complaints if filmmakers planned on intermissions the way playwrights do, but they don’t.

I must ask some of my Maltese colleagues what the deal is with this practice, and whether they prefer it.


  1. Of course we prefer it. And intermissions are not exclusive to Malta. The cinema I used to go to in Bruges used to have an intermission and so did the one in Amsterdam.

    How else do you get to refill on the popcorn and the coke? Not to mention the toilet breaks.

    Planned intermissions? It’s a break full stop. No matter where you are in the film it will continue after the break… it ain’t going to run away.

  2. Jacques: I’ve seen a couple of films in Copenhagen, and that wasn’t my experience. And it’s not done in Ireland or the UK, so it’s definitely not pan-European. I wonder which countries do it, and which don’t?

    The film won’t run away, but your enjoyment of it is interrupted. Any inertia, excitement, intrigue (that is, emotional engagement) that you’ve built up gets severely dissipated.

  3. You can add New Zealand to the list. We were watching “The World’s Fastest Indian” in Kaikoura when, suddenly, the film just stopped. We thought there was a problem – there was no announcement, nothing.

    I think it could be financial – we waited in a long line for snacks during intermission.

  4. I could maybe see it with PotC, since it is nearing the three hour mark but with “The World’s Fastest Indian”?

    I don’t think it’s a practice I could get used to but to each their own. I love a cigarette but not quite that much…

  5. I guess it grows on you. Some movie buff might tell you that all films originally had intermission – probably seeing that movies originally emulated the theatre environment and experience.

    Having been brought up with the “intermission system” I find it hard to deal with cinemas that don’t have it… especially when the popcorn goes cold!

  6. Jacques: Yeah, I figured that as well. However, I expected that kind of bald mercantilism in North America, not in Europe.

  7. When I was 16, I watched “Men In Black” in Scotland, and I was shocked and disappointed when the credits started rolling – I had been thinking to myself “wow, it’s been going for ages and we haven’t even had the intermission yet, so there’s at least another hour of this fun movie to go”… hah.

    I have come to hate the intermissions, and since I don’t buy popcorn it’s just fifteen minutes to wait until I get to see the rest of the film. The only reason it’s done is to get more people to buy overpriced snacks, and then I have to sit through yet another half-an-hour of the guy next to me crunching on nachos.

  8. In Chile, you can pick your movie seats, the same way you can when you’re going to a concert. They also show the previews and then turn the lights on so it’s very bright in the theatre. I found this disturbing.

    What wasn’t disturbing were the seats in the theatre. I’ve never sat in a more comfortable movie chair.

  9. My special edition DVD of Doctor Zhivago (the classic not the remake with Keira Knightley – ugh) includes a real-time intermission with rousing music and a screen which says “intermission” rolling for 15 minutes or so. I let it roll, step out for toke and bevvie and step back in to see the second half without having to pause. I love intermissions but they ust be built into the movie – not stopped randomly. I tell ya, some of those Lord of Rings could’ve used a break for a stretch – especially when the seats are lumpy.

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