At 7.30 on Friday evening, Godzilla and King Kong are scheduled to converge on a large lot in eastern Spain to trade blows and bellows, rip fistfuls of fur and scales off each other and generally wreak CGI havoc for an appreciative, car-bound audience.
Their titanic sparring, however, could be short-lived. This weekend, the wading reptilian metaphor for atomic warfare and the conflicted, skyscraper-bothering ape could find themselves cowed by the setting sun, the changing of the clocks and the local coronavirus curfew.
The drive-in autocine near the Valencian town of Dénia has been screening its movies so that they begin after the sun goes down a little before 7.30pm and end around two hours later, giving customers plenty of time to get home before the region’s overnight curfew kicks in at 10pm.
But as Carles Miralles, who runs the drive-in, points out, the days are getting longer and the clocks are going forward in the early hours of Sunday morning.
“That means it’ll be impossible to start showing a film before 8.30pm, which means customers won’t have enough time to get home before the curfew begins,” he said.
The Valencian Association of Cinema Owners has written to the regional government to explain the situation and suggest that customers of the area’s three drive-ins be entitled to the same legal leeway currently afforded workers whose hours fall outside those of the curfew. Without “cultural passports”, they say, the drive-ins will be forced to close.
“We won’t be able to work after the clocks go forward, and that’s why we’re asking to be allowed to be able to give our customers slips to show that they’ve been to the drive-in and for them to be given enough time to get home after the curfew,” said Miralles.
“In any case, people will be going straight home in their cars and not walking down the street. Police would be able to check the ticket and see that the person had been to the drive-in and was on their way home.”
Miralles remains optimistic, but the Valencian government notes that the current nationwide state of emergency that underpins the curfew is due to remain in force until at least 9 May.
“There are exceptions that allow movement so that people can work, look after others or deal with emergencies, but there are no exceptions for cultural or leisure activities,” it said in a statement.
Dénia’s autocine, which Miralles’ father opened in 1979, is Spain’s oldest working drive-in. It was also the first cinema in the country and across much of Europe to reopen in May last year after the first wave of the pandemic.
Along with other drive-ins across the continent, it experienced a surge in demand for its alfresco charms. In the absence of new releases, it has opted for a nostalgic programme including 80s and 90s classics such as Gremlins, The Goonies, and the first Jurassic Park.
“Drive-ins are a way to let people watch movies really, really, safely,” said Miralles. “A lot of people have told us they were very keen to go to see a film but didn’t dare go to a normal cinema. At the drive-in, you’re always in your own car – or in the open air if you go to the toilet or to get something to eat or drink. You’re alway outdoors and we’re a 12,000 square metre space with room for a little over 400 people.”
Business is not what it was before the pandemic – the drive-in’s huge terrace is closed and its once busy bar has been reduced to a collection point – but it still attracts small bubbles of friends, families and couples, as well as the British migrants who come for the Thursday night screenings of undubbed films.
As the weekend looms, Miralles’s mind is turning to the monstrous showdown, and whether it will last more than a night or two. “We hope to keep showing Godzilla Vs Kong after we premiere it on Friday,” he said.
“We’ve been through a bit of a desert when it comes to big new releases because of all the waves of the pandemic, so it’s a shame that we may have to close just when the blockbusters are starting to come out. They should just let us carry on working if we can.”
Miralles also hopes that the drive-in’s bar and terrace will fill up again once the pandemic and its restrictions fade. The cinema, he said, had been too quiet for too long.
“There aren’t any big towns round here, it’s mainly smaller ones, so the mood is normally really friendly,” he said. “We’ve lost that a bit, though I hope it’s only a temporary pause. We really miss it. A lot of people come, but we hardly see them.”