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Saturday night drinks at The Black Lotus in Clawson and a couple of PR girls from Tristar handed out free passes to an advance screening of Pompeii.

And T-Shirts. Yeah, they were practicing the dark arts.

But it worked because my friends and I all turned up last night to watch. We had to hand in our phones and got a lecture about the dangers of piracy before the film started.

When a film is screened to members of the public in advance, I tend to assume one of two things; it’s being recorded for an advert to drum up audiences. Or it’s a film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (he must have some dirt on someone at one of the studios because they just let him keep making films with terrible scripts). His version of The Three Musketeers has the dubious honour of being the only film I’ve ever walked out of.  Five minutes before the screening last night I IMDB’d Pompeii and sure as eggs is eggs, under director was the dreaded name.

By the end of the film I glanced around to see how my fellow viewers were fairing. Many of the young women in the audience were in tears because they had specifically attended to watch their heartthrob Kit ‘John Sneeeeeeuuuuuw’ Harrington running around all heroic and half naked. Most of the men and anyone sensible were giggling a little at the hokey plotline that borrowed heavily from Titanic. And one of our party had tears of hilarity streaming down his face from behind the 3D glasses. It was good fun but I suspect that over half the audience felt they’d been short-changed by the quality of the film, and for no ostensive purpose.

What was the point of this screening? Was it audience reaction? We weren’t asked about it before or afterwards. Was it to bump up official viewing figures for an expected dud? If this is the case, are we unknowingly supporting bad movies?

I got pretty lucky with my first ever preview. I showed up to the Cineworld on Broad Street in Birmingham on a cold gloomy day back in 2009, to watch The Men Who Stare At Goats.  There were only three other journalists.  And free tea and coffee. Obviously, being painfully British, I chose the tea. In the darkened room with my cuppa and no popcorn wielding neighbours, I felt like the film had been made just for me.

The general public are not really afforded this luxury, but like flying first class, I think that it is something everyone should experience at least once. A free film should never be taken for granted but beware the hidden agenda. And the free T-Shirt; the husband’s going to hang onto that thing forever.

 I’m still not sure what last night’s hidden agenda was. But I’m going to another preview next week – it’s a Liam Neeson actioner so it could have exactly the same type of mindless appeal, but I think I’ll go armed with a few questions…

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