Friend #1: I don't see how they got fourteen screens into the old Cinerama Dome.
Me: Let's go and see that at the Arclight…
Friend #2: But aren't they really expensive?
Well, not really, considering the Arclight is a movie lover's nirvana.
I saw a film at the Arclight on Saturday. While the film was nothing spectacular, the experience of the Arclight was worth every cent.
A few years ago, Pacific Theaters closed the Cinerama Dome to remodel it. When they reopened, a new complex was built alongside the existing Cinerama Dome. The new complex was named Arclight Hollywood and represented a new concept in movie going.
Let's take a quick look at the Cinerama Dome before moving on to the Arclight.
The Dome reopened with the 20th Anniversary re-issue of "E.T.". When I arrived, I realized that they completely refurbished the theater, but retained many of the design elements from the 60s and 70s. The seats were replaced, sound and projection systems updated and the screen was replaced.
The Cinerama Dome, originally built in the late 60s, for the release of films like "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and "How The West Was Won", in an effort to combat television (the image was huge to draw you away from your television set), soon became the premiere venue to showcase a film. The theater is shaped, strangely enough, like a dome, containing a screen which wraps around a significant portion of the interior, creating a large, curved screen. This gives the audience a unique perspective, creating the illusion that the image is enveloping them, drawing them into the image.
I was excited to hear that the theater was being remodeled. Everything about Arclight sounded like the answer to my prayers; reserved seats eliminating lines, no commercials for Mazda, American Express, Sprite, video games, gourmet concessions, all of which promised to make movie going an experience again.
At the showing of "E.T.", all of these promises were fulfilled. However, one aspect of the Arclight experience is sadly lacking from the new Dome: larger seats with more legroom. Instead, they simply replaced the old movie theater seats with new traditional movie theater seats. Why didn't they update the seating? Doing so might have created the perfect venue.
Returning on another occasion, my film was playing at the Arclight next door. A deluxe multiplex? I was skeptical but game. My friends had already been there, so I trusted them.
Entering the enormous lobby, two things immediately strike you. The sheer size of the lobby with escalators and staircases to the two hidden levels. In most other multiplexes, other levels, if there are any, are completely open to the lobby. The other is that the marquee has some additional information; "Now Available for Seating" and "Not Available For Seating". That's right. If you are more than 15 minutes late, they will not sell tickets or seat you for that performance. They don't want to disturb the people watching the film. We've just climbed two steps up the ladder to Nirvana.
The lobby has a small bookstore with an interesting, eclectic collection of books and a café.
As you approach the attentive ticket sellers (who are not stationed behind sheets of plexiglass, by the way), they welcome you and ask which film you would like. Nothing unusual here, but after you tell them, they whip out a series of maps, much like buying a ticket to a concert. "Would you like a seat in the front, middle or back?" Reserved seats! My prayers, gripes and grumblings have been answered. Normally, I would sit on an aisle, but at the Arclight it doesn't matter, so I let them pick. They will always give you the best available seats based on any preferences you may have. No more waiting in lines. Hallelujah!
The Arclight has a free membership program, much like AMC. It isn't quite as generous, but every bit helps. For every ticket you buy, you get points. So many points earn you free concessions and movie tickets. For select films, being a member gets you a reduced ticket rate. Generally, these are films that have been playing a while and for performances during the week.
After you get your tickets, proceed up or down the escalators to the theater. None of the theaters are on ground level. Separating them interrupts the flow of ambient noise.
As you enter your theater, an usher shows you to your reserved seat. Wait! An usher who actually helps you? Brilliant! And very British. The movie theaters in Britain have this same sort of program; reserved seats and attendant ushers. When you sit down, you realize more of the benefits of the Arclight. The seats are larger with higher backs and moveable armrests. There is enough legroom to cross your legs and barely touch the row in front of you. By now, we have so far surpassed the experience of other theaters, it isn't necessary to count, but two more steps towards Nirvana.
There are a couple of things you may not realize. The large screen at the front of the theater is prominent. But did you notice how far back the first row of seats is? If the screen fell to the ground, it would not touch the first row of seats. This pretty much guarantees that every chair has a good or great sightline. The theaters do not have stadium seating, but it isn't necessary; the seats are spaced so far apart you won't be bothered by someone sitting directly in front of you, unless they are a professional basketball player.
All fourteen screens are "black box theaters". This means that once the film starts, all extraneous light and sound are gone and will not disturb your experience, even the exit signs glow. If people come in or out during the show, you won't notice it. Remember the separated levels from the lobby? And there is no sound bleed through even though every auditorium has THX sound. Nirvana approaches. The theaters vary in size, but all are comfortable and large.
Before the film starts, an usher steps out and announces that they will wait five minutes into the screening, to ensure that everything is working properly. Huh? You mean if there is no sound, I don't have to trek out and try to find a manager and notify them of this? Someone will actually fix it without my knowledge? As they finish their announcements, the trailers start… Wait! No commercials? The heavens are shining above. No commercials! A movie lover's paradise.
The Concessions Stands offer fresh popped popcorn (a rare thing these days), real butter (even rarer), fresh made caramel corn, hot dogs, sausages on baguettes, and more. Even more amazing, the prices are comparable to an AMC or a Mann's theater.
Do I ever have to leave? On Saturday, the friend who went with me said that she wanted to work there. Why can't every theater be like this? Why can't every theater chain make the customer's comfort and enjoyment the #1 priority? I don't know.
Because the Arclight is perceived as being more expensive, more casual moviegoers tend to avoid it. Less people, fewer people kicking your seat.
Give it a try. You won't want to go back to a normal theater again.