Shining Stars & Flowing Waters

Theatre Industry Welcomes Spectacular New Venues

Not so long ago, reports about new theatre construction could be summed up with two words: "still standing." These days, however, exhibitors are moving again and building up and out. This past holiday season provided a great launching pad for new theatres worldwide, and this article will showcase some of the freshest. In fact, one or two were so hot, they were still being readied at press time. As I was guided, quite literally, by beacons of light and otherwise illuminated waters, my selection is by no means meant to be comprehensive.

From the Cinemark Savassi in Brazil to My Theatre in Ratchaburi, Thailand, from Vancouver, Canada, to Khimki, Russia, unique locations and designs to match are expanding our views of service and experience. Bright new KinoStars illuminate Heavenly Villages, and CineStars are rising above more than one Belo Horizonte. From the German side of Lake Constance to South Lake Tahoe, California, to Solomons Island Road in Annapolis, Maryland, theatres everywhere are committed to bringing the best possible film experience to their customers.

Crown Theatres' completely renovated Harbour 9 & Art House Annapolis, adjacent to Harbour Center's landmark red-and-white striped lighthouse, typifies the upgrading and expansion of existing locations. To give the Harbour 9 its proper sendoff, Crown helped local charities raise money, with free popcorn for patrons who donated needed toys and food. Selected films, including holiday and naval classics such as White Christmas, U-571 and Top Gun, were screened for those donating $2 to the families of servicemen at the Naval Academy. According to Hal Cleveland, president and COO of the 188-screen circuit, Crown's goals involve "a design that incorporates lifestyle comforts with the classic motion picture theatre concept and an emphasis on customer service...making for the ultimate entertainment experience."

In Crown's home base of Connecticut. Loews Cineplex Entertainment (200 theaters and 2,176 screens worldwide) will expand and update its existing 1995 Danbury ten-plex to an all-stadium 16-screener with more than 4,000 high-back rocking seats. Awaiting a larger lobby and "contemporary concession stand" with expanded varieties, the theatre will remain open for business during construction. Plans call for the six new full stadium auditoriums to be added first, after which the current ones will be extensively retrofitted.

For the most part, however, the holidays unwrapped brand-new theatres such as two CineStar Filmpaläste in Germany. On Nov. 18, nine screens with 1,428 seats opened in Konstanz at the LAGO Shopping Center (jointly operated with the Rabe family, who concurrently turned their traditional Scala multiplex into an art house). One week later, ten new screens with 1,783 seats followed at Westpark Center in Ingolstadt. One-third of the theatres' capacities are comprised of Kuschelbänke, the Teutonic treatment for love seats, which are the usual double seats but in a more couch-like design, with a fixed seat and no armrest in the middle. Ninety-two kinos and 602 screens under the CineStar and UFA brands make Greater Union Filmpalast GmbH the market leader with over 140,000 seats.

For its first theatre in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, Cinemark (3,238 screens in 33 of the United States and 13 countries) looked for a "Lifestyle Center" and found shopping plus entertainment along sidewalks and courtyards lined by trees. The eight-screen/2,000-seat Savassi Theatre opened to much acclaim on Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, Rising Star Media, a joint venture between National Amusements and Soquel Ventures/Paul B. Heth, launched its second location in Russia. Following the September 2003 premiere at Ikea's Mega Mall located in Moscow's Leninsky district, the KinoStar at Mega Khimki debuted on Dec. 15 as the country's "largest and most luxurious cinema," with 12 auditoriums and 3,600 seats on stadium risers. "Our goal and personal challenge was to build a cinema that we believe will be ranked among the world's best," Heth said at the inauguration. "We strive to ensure that our patrons will enjoy a truly 'one-of-a-kind' moviegoing experience."

In addition to the two "de Lux" auditoriums with leather seats joining the ranks of other NA/Heth sites in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, the lobby of the Khimki KinoStar features two Swarovski glass curtains with over 40,000 crystals suspended from the ceiling. Another equally unique curtain, albeit made of water and displaying video images using Sharp projectors, sits in the center of the café-style lobby lounge. Also encompassing multimedia communication and other audio-visual displays on Sharp LCD screens at the box-office and concession areas, this splashy technology was provided by Allure Fusion Media.

With its 24-foot (seven-meter) high water curtain and choreographed water leapers, Famous Players, a division of Viacom Canada (93 locations with 846 screens), will offer its patrons a similar digitally projected outlook at The Paramount, which also includes what has been termed video "techno-totems." Like its sister theatres in Montreal, Toronto and Calgary, Vancouver's upcoming nine-screen, 2,140-seat flagship is located in the city's booming downtown core. "Four stories of windows on both [main street] sides," Robb Chase, president and CEO of Famous, envisioned, "will offer passersby a transparent view of the interior, as well as the street scene beyond."

Above three auditoriums on the second floor, two of which have over 400 seats, and beyond a soaring escalator leading to the remaining screens (from no less than 137 to about 228 seats), the Paramount will also have a third-floor café/restaurant, as well as other exciting elements conceived by Rafii Architects. Rising Stars' design team at Atelier Walter Achatz Architekten, Germany, chose a stylishly contemporary environment for the KinoStar's "Bar 12," which served popular music und items such as Pilsner beer, cocktails and coffees. Additionally, a full-service billiards room with four competition-grade pool tables provides yet another alternative.

Best of all, however, is the construction of two separate arcade areas integrated within the same KinoStar lobby. By having a dedicated space for games that cater to families and younger children, and one for teenagers and young adults, Rising Star Media honors the company's commitment to providing appropriate entertainment to all ages. The new cinema will also continue the successful Kidstar program that assists parents in making decisions about programming. Kidstar special events include appearances by clowns and animated characters, talent shows and other activities.

Options for alternative forms of entertainment are key to a new concept launched in Thailand this past November. Appropriately called My Theatre and built for some 248,000 U.S. dollars, the pilot project in Ratchaburi features several small auditoriums equipped with high-speed Internet and Thaicom satellite connections for the delivery of films, games and karaoke. Shin Broadband Internet and EGV Entertainment Plc, which controls more than three-quarters of the country's cinema market, set up a prototype location 50 miles (80 km) west of Bangkok for what they hope will become a countrywide franchise.

According to reports in the Bangkok Post, hourly service charges for this ultimate personalized movie experience are 240 baht ($5.95) for a two-person and 480 baht for an eight-person room, while 100 baht per head buy admission to the 21-seat room. In addition to receiving its share of My Theatre revenues, Prasong Rungsmaithong, EGV's executive VP and chief marketing officer, expects Thailand's 3.7-billion-baht cinema industry to expand by 15% in 2004 and 20% next year, all the while doubling once My Theatre franchise operations are available in every province.

A regional first, Heavenly Village Cinema 8 became the Lake Tahoe area's first all-THX-certified multiplex, both on the Nevada and California sides. At the beginning of the New Year, the chic resort of skiing and casinos now has what is "reserved for the world's premier cinema venues," said Michael Franzi, VP, sales and marketing, at THX. Added owner and operator John Roush, "From the architectural design to the presentation equipment, we worked closely with THX to ensure every aspect of the cinema met its rigid standards for sound and picture excellence." Back in April he put it this way. "The comfort level you get in addition to the entire cinematic experience will ensure you feel you are truly at the movies," Roush predicted. "With our Irwin rocking-chair seats, the stadium seating and cupholders in the armrests, you may get so comfortable you'll fall asleep." Heavenly indeed.