In the working life of a Thai stand-alone movie theater, 5 years can amount to a very long time. All the more so in these twilight years of the structural-type. If maintenance costs, or a dwindling customer base don't do it in, the necessity of keeping up with the times likely will.
5 years ago, digital projection was just a rumor circulating through the movie exhibition industry. Theaters which failed to integrate the costly new technology, the thinking went, would soon find themselves short of films and short of business. "Out of business" would be the next and final stage.
Those predictions have become reality for many Thai stand-alones over the last 5 years. Metropolitan Bangkok, for one, went from having about 10 stand-alone double-feature theaters to zero during that span. In the provinces, too, their numbers have fallen to lows not seen since the late 1920's.
In the 5 years since the Southeast Asia Movie Theater Project first surveyed the Thai north, the sum of active stand-alone movie theaters has been halved from 2 down to 1. The lone survivor hangs on thanks to a life-saving upgrade to digital projection. For a movie theater, that's the equivalent of having a heart transplant.
Uttaradit's Thana Rungrot Rama is the only active stand-alone movie theater left in northern Thailand.
While favorable to movie lovers in Uttaradit, it's not a coincidence that the Thana Rungrot Rama was given the digital upgrade. Thana, the company that owns the theater, is the distribution arm of Phranakorn Films, one of Thailand's main production companies. Thana is also the main movie distributor for the central and northern regions of the country.
Given that there are virtually no independent movie exhibitors left in northern Thailand other than Thana (not counting the national chains, Major Cineplex and SF Cinema) going digital was a natural investment. Should the Thana Rungrot Rama fail, it could easily be sold off and the expensive projection equipment installed in one of the company's other theaters.
Technics aside, the old theater seems to be doing just fine. About 50 people turned out for an 8:00 PM screening of the Thai coming of age film Timeline. If this is an average size crowd, then it's no wonder Thana opted to install digital projection. For a small, up-country market like Uttaradit, 50 ticket sales for a single screening is not bad at all.
Like almost all Thai movie theaters built in the middle decades of last century, the entrance to the Thana Rungrot Rama's lobby area is without exterior walls. This design is in harmony with the local climate, allowing the ever-warm tropical air to circulate freely, without need for costly air-conditioning.
Lobby accouterments and advertisements.
Thai tradition dictates that nothing can be higher up on a given wall than pictures of the King and Queen.
2014 marks the 40th birthday of the Thana Rungrot Rama. This, however, is the first year that the theater will stand as the sole surviving stand-alone movie theater in northern Thailand. But with the profiles of these cultural institutions gradually on the rise, perhaps one of the many dormant theaters in the north will be resurrected.
Stranger things have happened.