Movie Palaces: It's a shame we settle for Multiplexes

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Chauncey_G, Jan 29, 2002.

  1. Chauncey_G

    Chauncey_G Second Unit

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    I was just in L.A. this past weekend and finally was able to fulfill a long-held wish: to see a movie in Graumann's Chinese Theater. The experience was incredible, far surpassing any that I have ever had in a multiplex movie theater.

    First: I have always felt that the theater, from the box office and concessions to the quality of staff and the decor, all become a part of your cinematic experience and thus will reflect in some way on your opinion of the film you're there to see. All too often in multiplexes do I get the feeling that their whole design and purpose is to get you out of their building as soon as possible in order to get the next herd of people through. Very often the box office and concession stands are understaffed. The theater houses themselves are cookie-cutter clones of every other house in every other theater you've been to. There is no showmanship.

    At Graumann's Chinese Theater, the entire place is the show. It, of course, starts in the courtyard with the hand- and footprints of movie stars imbedded in concrete from the Golden Age of Hollywood to today. Your ticket is torn by someone wearing a distinctive Oriental-styled jacket. Then you walk into the lobby, complete with ornate decorations, light fixtures and carpet. You can't help but stare up at these ornamentations, awed by the look and feel of this unique theater. The concession stand was clean, organized and well-staffed. The theater itself, though, makes the lobby look simple and bare. Oriental-styled lamps, giant stone pillars, curtains, and an absolutely incredible "carved" ceiling with recessed lighting into it's intricate patterns make waiting for your film a joy. The seating is comfortable and spacious, with ample leg-room. In short: WOW.

    Second: Screen presentation at a standard multiplex is usually the minimum required. Focus seems to be uniformly soft, volume levels a little low with disappointing bass and surround activity (for the films that utilize these things), and screen light levels somewhat dim and/or poorly focused. This is all on a screen that is, on avarage about 30 feet long by about 20 feet high. If you are one of the handful of people who stay to watch the credits, then you are joined by another handful of ushers who clean behind, around and in front of you while you try to watch the screen.

    At the Chinese Theater, I was immediately impressed by the sharp focus and even, bright light and the excellent piture stability on a screen that had to have been at least 50 feet in length. Sound was SDDS digital, and though I am not a fan of SDDS in the multiplex world (for a variety of quality control and speaker issues) it was clean, vibrant, and well-executed through what I assume was the full compliment of five speaker channels behind the screen and an impressive array of surround speakers. I can imagine that the job of EQ'ing such a mammoth theater (it seats something on the order of 1,160) was quite a task, but it was accomplished wonderfully. The staff stayed out of the theater for the duration of the credits. I also noticed that the curtains, rarely used in today's theaters thanks to the advent of slide projectors (which make your local multiplex into a glorified billboard), opened after the picture came on and closed before it went off: a detail left over from the era in which the theater was built - never let the audience see a blank screen.

    In closing, I want to say that I do understand the financial necessity for having multiple screens in a theater in today's cinema marketplace. This having been said, I am not a fan of the modern movie-going experience. I've worked movie theaters for a number of years, so perhaps I am more sensitive to it than most. On the whole (there are exceptions to this, but they are few), I see today's multiplex as being an exercise in getting you in, through the concession stand, into your theater and then out of the building in as short a time as possible. Customer service is practically non-existent, it's only last vestige being the free passes the manager hands you if there was a problem. Screen presentation is minimal, and the staff weak. To cap it all off, the theater itself leaves nothing to fire the imagination or to captivate the senses in it's architecture or decor.

    It's no longer an escape, it's just a place you go to see a movie.

    Thanks for letting me rant.
     
  2. Michael Boyd

    Michael Boyd Second Unit

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    I've always wanted to see a picture there myself. You are very lucky. I'll probably get out there at some point this year.

    You have to remember one of the reasons that the presentation was so fantastic is the fact that so many industry people see movies there. I've always heard LA theaters are some of the best because of this fact. I'm sure they even send their folks around to check them out once in awhile.

    I'm with you on the multiplex phenomenon. I've been ranting in the Regal Cinema thread. Don't get me started on Carmike.
     
  3. Tino

    Tino Executive Producer
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    I've been to the Chinese a few times and I agree it's a great experience. Here in the NYC area, we also have a few "palace's" such as the Ziegfeld and to a small extent, the Loews Astor Plaza.
    Soon the Loews Jersey in Jersey City, which is being restored, will be added to this list.
    It's the best way to experience certain films.[​IMG]
     
  4. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    I sure agree. I used to enjoy going to the Cooper in Denver, which was one of the last Cinerama theaters. I saw Fiddler on the Roof and all three original Star Wars there as well as several others. There was nothing like getting seated in just the right spot and having the movie wrap about 120 degrees around you. It was around before the really good sound systems, but it was plenty good and with that picture, who cares. I have never really been able to get as involved in "flat" screens as i did at the Cooper.
    During their last days, they started showing classics and the last film I saw there was Ben-Hur. I still think that is the highpoint of my entire movie viewing life. After that it was torn down to build a Barnes and Noble. What a trade! One of the last 4 or 5 Cinerama theaters on earth for the ten billionth Barnes and Noble. sometimes life sucks!
     
  5. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    Boy, John, you sure bring back a lot of fond memories of the Cooper. I loved that theater! I was outraged when I discovered it was torn down! Since moving to Southern California, I've been very pleased to realize how good I have it here movie-wise. We still have a theater that's very much like the Cooper in the Cinerama Dome. The Chinese Theater is great. The BEST commercial theater in LA, though, is the Village in Westwood. Fantastic sound. And the theaters such as the Academy Theater and Director's Guild Theater are great too, not to mention the studio theater at Paramount. It doesn't get any better for a movie buff!
     
  6. Jerry AZ

    Jerry AZ Stunt Coordinator

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    I have to agree. One of the main reasons I quit going to the theater was because of the multiplex, jam em' in and give em' a small picture to look at mentality. [​IMG]
    I remember a theater in Honolulu that actually had projected clouds moving across the ceiling while the lights were on, and a nice large screen.
     
  7. rockinricky

    rockinricky Stunt Coordinator

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    Yeah, we had a Cooper here in Pueblo, too. I think it was owned by the same company that owned the Coopers in Denver and Colorado Springs. Our Cooper was downtown, on 6th St between Main and Santa Fe. It burned down in 1980. I miss that place. It was Pueblo's best cinema. I saw 'Star Wars' there 5 times in its original run.

    All the biggest movies played the Cooper. My dad has a picture from the local paper that shows him and my Mom waiting in line at the Cooper to see 'The Godfather' on opening night.

    The Cooper Owned.
     
  8. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    When the Cooper in Denver was still around, I remember there only being Cinerama theaters also in LA (the Cinerama Dome) Honolulu, (maybe the one Jerry referred to) Seattle, maybe somewhere in the NY area, (though I'm really not sure about that one) and, I believe, Tokyo. While I don't think the ones in Pueblo and Colorado Springs were Cinerama, with the same ownership, I'm sure they had an interest in movies you don't generally find these days outside SoCal.
    I remember seeing Return of the Jedi there and watching the entire audience move in unison during the jet cycle scene.
    This is bumming me out.
     
  9. Scott L

    Scott L Producer

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    Dang, I'm only 22 and haven't been to these Cinerama's that you guys are talking about. It seems that I missed out on a lot. The closest thing for me was the Uptown Theater in DC. Just one enormous screen housed in a dbl-decker theater with the best sound I have ever heard. Listening to the description of the Chinese Theater just blows it away though. I never thought of going through the movie house as an actual part of the experience, sounds great.
    I guess being old as dirt has its advantages. [​IMG] j/k
     
  10. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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  11. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    Scott,
    For a quick description, a cinerama theater put to full potential used three projectors projecting side by side across a screen that wrapped something like 150 degrees around the audience. In many ways it was better than Imax because it extended so far into your peripheral vision. There were only three or four full Cinerama movies made but normal, wide movies, particularly a 2.85:1 one like Ben-Hur still gave an experience you just don't get with today's flat screen theaters, no matter how big the screen is.
     
  12. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

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    The Chinese theater is great, but personally, I prefer the two Mann theaters in Westwood more, National and Village.
     
  13. Jason Whyte

    Jason Whyte Screenwriter

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    I have always had mixed feelings on the Grauman's Chinese theater, and not because of the film that some of us HTFers saw back in November 2000, "Red Planet."
    On the plus side, the design of the theater is beautiful, you get the classic "going out to the movies" kind of feeling, the seats are comfortable, and based on what a friend told me, the popcorn was terrific. On the negative side, however, the screen is common width (masks downward from the top for scope 2.40:1 films), the sound seemed to reverberate off the walls -- especially on dialogue -- and the full house lights went up FAR too quickly.
    One thing I liked and in agreement, however, is the curtains kept over the screen before the film starts, and how the curtains draw again at the end of the trailers. Nice touch that some local theaters in Victoria tried for a while but no one noticed.
    When I return to LA in the future, I will certainly visit all of the large Hollywood theaters, and certainly this one again. I just hope it improved over my last experience.
    Jason
     
  14. David Oliver

    David Oliver Second Unit

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    I've lived in L.A. six years and the one time I went to Grumann's it was bad. We went to go see Bringing Out The Dead and it was the last showing. Between the theater and the concession area is just curtains. Well the impatient staff there decided that with about 30 minutes left in the movie was a good time to start cleaning up, so we got to hear a lot of clamoring around including, it sounded like they were breaking down the whole concession stand. And, believe it or not, they ran the friggin' vacuum cleaner. Finally someone who was sitting on the end of on of the rows got up and and firmly, but loud enough so we could all here told them to "Be Quiet, you morons, we're trying to watch the movie!" to which the whole theater applauded.

    I recommend the Vista on Sunset, instead.
     
  15. Mark Kalzer

    Mark Kalzer Second Unit

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    I'm only 17, so really, multi-plexes are the only thing I know! Still, I did have the pleasure of seeing Apollo 13 in a gigantic movie theatre in Calgary. I don't remember much about the theatre, (I think I was 11 at the time), but I remember that the screen was huge! It was quite an experience. The fact that I was too young to know what was going to happen enhanced the action for me too.
     
  16. AaronP

    AaronP Stunt Coordinator

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    There's this real old movie theater in my town, The Rivoli. It's like 80 years old. The sound isn't great, the picture is a little dim, but they have a real cool layout. The front like 60 feet of the theater has a slight incline, and has long tables and chairs, kinda like college lecture hall style tables. There there's the regular stadium seating, and above the stadium seating is the balcony.

    The cool thing is, they serve pizza, beer, and mixed drinks at this place. And on Sundays they show football games.
     
  17. Bill Huelbig

    Bill Huelbig Second Unit

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    To John Rice: There were at least four Cinerama theaters in the New York area in the 1960's: The Loew's Capitol (called the Loew's Cinerama for a while), the Warner Cinerama, the Clairidge in Montclair, NJ and one on Long Island, NY - in Hicksville, I think. The first two have been torn down, and the Clairidge is now a fourplex. It's always depressing to go there now, considering what it was like in 1963 when I saw HOW THE WEST WAS WON there.

    To Scott L.: The Uptown in DC is a real Cinerama theater. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY had its world premiere there in 1968, and I believe it was also equipped to run the 3-projector version of Cinerama in the 1950's.

    --Bill
     
  18. Nick_Gray

    Nick_Gray Agent

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    Scott,

    I don't think you'll ever get to see a Cinerama screen, either. The last (or perhaps second to last) one, here in Omaha, NE, got torn down last fall. That's what we do to our State/City Landmarks.

    The theater was in poor repair, and (mis)managed by Carmike (@#%^@#$^[email protected]#$!). It had too many seats (or not enough room between - take your pick). Still, it was the best movie experience I've ever had.

    First movie I saw there was Ewok Adventure (or whatever the first Ewok movie was); when the giant thing (bad-guy, I really don't remember much about the movie) first appeared on that giant screen, I got so scared I hid on the floor for a couple of minutes.

    I got to see Fifth Element there to an otherwise empty house (around 800 seats on two floors, I think) with the sound cranked. That experience totally made the movie.

    Best of all, though, was seeing the re-release of Star Wars: ANH opening day to a very packed house.

    The cool thing about the curved WIDE screen was that even when you had to sit close to the screen, you could still see the whole thing with more or less normal perspective.

    The last four Cinerama screens were in Denver, Minneapolis, Omaha, and a fourth city (Seattle, I think). Minneapolis bull-dozed their's a few years back, and then started a letter-campaign to change the minds of the Big Suits in Charge to preserve the theater. A big letter-writing campaign ensued from Hollywood as well. Now this former City Landmark is a parking lot.

    If you can't tell, I'm hugely bitter about this. I truly envy you Coast-dwellers who get real good theaters. The best we get are megaplexes. Moral of the story: If you like film, stay out of Omaha!
     
  19. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    I forgot about DC.

    Bill,

    Are you saying there is still one in the NY area or that you're not sure?

    I had just tried to list the last ones I knew were still around about ten years ago, which were Denver (gone), LA, Seattle (not sure), NYC area, DC, Honolulu and somewhere like Tokyo. I know Denver is gone and LA is still there, but I don't know about the others.
     
  20. Bill Huelbig

    Bill Huelbig Second Unit

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    John:
    Unfortunately, they're all gone. The first two I mentioned were in Manhattan, and the one on Long Island is either demolished or turned into a multiplex. I go to the Clairidge Fourplex (or is it a fiveplex?) in NJ a couple of times a year, but like I said it's a sad sight. Talk about the good old days ... [​IMG]
    --Bill
     

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