Where have all the big films gone?

It’s Ramadan, and our cinemas are showing some unusual movies. We try to find out why, and out what we’ve got to look forward to

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Just what is going on with Dubai cinemas right now? It’s summer, prime time for the year’s most anticipated studio releases and – in our city at least – a big, welcome blast of AC. And yet a trip to the multiplex this week will turn up some, shall we say, unexpected options. Will you see Planet 51, last year’s runt of the animated family movie litter, originally released in Dubai back in November 2009? Or The Cry of the Owl, an obscure and poorly reviewed ‘thriller’ starring Paddy Considine and Julia Stiles, also from 2009?

The reason, of course, is Ramadan, and if you think about it, the oddities of this week’s cinema schedules make perfect sense. It’s the time of year for spiritual awakening, piety and high religious consciousness, and most Hollywood movies do not subscribe to that agenda. As Nasif Kayed, general manager of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, tells Time Out: ‘Ramadan is about restraint, and to see any kind of violence, sexuality, or to hear bad language [is not in keeping with it].’

That’s not to say that Muslims are banned from watching films in the same way that dancing and singing is forbidden in the UAE over Ramadan. On the contrary, Kayed tells us that many Muslims watch a lot of TV owing to the month’s special editions of popular Arab soaps, although we would guess these are more Ramadan-appropriate than your average summer blockbuster. Ultimately, it’s just that, considering the purpose of the month, going to the cinema at this time isn’t too appealing.

So, if people aren’t going to the cinema in their usual numbers, regional distributors are not going to release their best titles. This means you can expect new cinema releases to remain relatively obscure over the next few weeks. We’re scheduled to see old films Bee Movie and Astro Boy on the big screen next week, accompanied by crime flick Dead Man Running, starring 50 Cent, Danny Dyer and, er, Brenda Blethyn. Never heard of it? We can’t imagine why…

You may notice, however, that Dubai cinemas are taking the opportunity to re-screen old kids’ films. Why’s that? Muslims aren’t required to fast over Ramadan until they reach puberty, but considering the way in which Dubai closes down over the month, there’s not much to keep the kids entertained. Taking the little ones to the cinema is a convenient solution, especially as family films are unlikely to contain much that will offend. It’s not too testing a trip for accompanying adults, either, as cinemas will not be serving the likes of popcorn, hot dogs or soft drinks until after sunset.

If you’re pining for the big hitters currently screening in the US, such as Sly Stallone’s The Expendables and Edgar Wright’s frenetic fanboy fantasy Scott Pilgrim vs the World, the good news is that there’s not long to wait. The post-Ramadan line-up is promising, with Stallone’s muscle movie arriving the week beginning September 9 and likeable comics Steve Carell and Paul Rudd in Dinner with Schmucks soon after that (Scott Pilgrim, alas, won’t make it here until October 7).

In the meantime, we think you should give the current lack of big movies in the cinema a positive spin. Why not take the time to see some old classics (Reel Cinemas is running regular Ramadan movie marathons, showing, among others, old Batman, Bond and Disney gems), or discover some amusingly bizarre duds? After all, we love a really bad movie. And with that, we’re off to book a seat for Dead Man Running

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