Bigger and louder: New cinemas strive for an enhanced movie experience


After much study over the past three months, the FJI Class of 2011 is headed for the final stretch. Our eighth annual survey of new cinemas concludes by taking a close look at and listening intently to the two elements that define the theatrical experience most: bigger screens and better sound. As in previous entries to the series, the featured selection of theatres and initiatives is exemplary, and cannot be comprehensive.

Starting off, we set our sights on a fittingly named venue. The Giant Screen at Millennium Point reopened on Oct. 24 in Birmingham, United Kingdom, after a major refurbishment that included Barco’s Enhanced 4K-32B DLP Cinema large-format twin-projector system with Dolby digital-cinema servers. “Millennium Point is currently still using their original IMAX sound system, which is a 5.1 with point source surrounds,” Art Mercurio, VP of technical services at D3D explains. “The top screen speaker used for IMAX 6.0 sound has been relegated for use as a spare. The digital cinema audio was tied in through their Dolby CP650 XO.” With Dolby 3D on its 72 x 51 foot (22 x 15.5 m) Perlux high-gain screen installed by Franklin Designs, Millennium Point now has “the U.K.’s largest independent giant-screen digital 3D cinema.” (For more tech details, check out The Giant Screen’s blog.)

After the opening, acting chief executive officer Karen Steed noted: “This is a very exciting time for the cinema at Millennium Point. The landscape of filmmaking and cinema is evolving at an enormous rate, and in order to succeed in the current climate, we have gone digital. To replace our IMAX installation, we undertook a rigorous tendering process with companies worldwide to find a suitable system.”

In turn, the U.K.’s leading cinema chain, Cineworld, brought The IMAX Experience to Cineworld Edinburgh on Dec. 21, offering “the most immersive cinematic experience for many a mile.” The launch was the first of three IMAX screens to be installed at existing sites, with additional openings at Cineworld Nottingham and Sheffield scheduled for this year.

Beginning in July at SilverCity Polo Park Cinemas in Winnipeg (Manitoba) and SilverCity Windsor Cinemas (Ontario), IMAX saw six new digital screens debut with Cineplex Entertainment at home in Canada. Following in October and December, respectively, SilverCity Ancaster (Ontario) alongside SilverCity London (Ontario) and SilverCity Victoria (British Columbia) brought the number of IMAX locations to 14 theatres circuit-wide.

At the same time, Cineplex has also been actively retrofitting auditoriums with its custom-designed Ultra AVX format, first introduced in this publication in November 2010. “UltraAVX, the addition of XSCAPE Entertainment Centres and conversion of our film-based IMAX systems to digital IMAX systems were the trends in 2011,” confirms Pat Marshall, VP of communications and investor relations. Going forward, “the addition of VIP Cinemas is a focus for us given the tremendous success we have realized to date and the huge customer appreciation for the service.” Additionally, she says, all newly built theatres will have an UltraAVX auditorium in each complex featuring Christie Solaria 2230 projectors, RealD 3D systems and Dolby 7.1 surround sound.

Following three UltraAVX screens in the Greater Toronto area which all opened on Feb. 11, 2011 (Colossus Vaughan, SilverCity Richmond Hill and SilverCity Yorkdale) “with the sharpest picture, crispest sound and reserved seating,” Cineplex introduced the XSCAPE Entertainment Centre at SilverCity Oakville and VIP Cinemas (Ontario) by welcoming guests with a free $5 Play Card on March 18. Offering “a full-service licensed lounge and special-event party suites,” several of its video and interactive games dispense tickets which can be exchanged for prizes at a nicely stocked redemption counter.

With a March triple dose of UltraAVX for Alberta (Scotiabank Theatre Chinook and Cineplex Odeon Sunridge Spectrum in Calgary, and Scotiabank Theatre Edmonton) and an April launch at Galaxy Cinemas Saskatoon (Saskatchewan) as well as two more Ultra-auditoriums in British Columbia (SilverCity Coquitlam and SilverCity Metropolis in Burnaby), apparently there’s no spring break in Canada.

Moving into the summer season, the circuit opened its newly built Cineplex Odeon Westshore Cinemas in Langford (British Columbia) on July 15. True to corporate policy, one of the seven screens at the 26,200-square-foot (2,450 sq. m) complex is of the UltraAVX variety. With similar square footage and equivalent 1,300-plus all-stadium rocker seat count, Cineplex topped off 2011 on Dec. 9 by going “out with the old and in with the new” at Galaxy Cinemas Chatham (Ontario). “There was a very old and very bad theatre in the market that we purchased from an independent operator with the full intention of rebuilding a new theatre in the market,” Marshall explains.

Shortly thereafter, Cineplex Entertainment exercised its option to equip an additional ten locations with 250 D-BOX MFX seats, bringing the total install base at the circuit to 21 theatres and over 520 motion-controlled seats.

D-BOX system deployment has seen similar growth worldwide since launching in April 2009 at UltraStar Surprise Pointe (Arizona) and Chinese 6 in Hollywood (Calif.). According to Guy Marcoux, VP of marketing, the breakdown of locations at the end of February is 77 sites in the U.S., 17 in Canada and an additional 11 D-Box theatres operating in seven countries. “Outside of North America, the leading markets for D-BOX have been Europe and Asia so far,” he details. “This widespread success clearly demonstrates the attractiveness of our business model as well as the acceptance of our motion experience as a fast-growing trend in movie viewing.”

Listening to movies has also been a priority for the Class of 2011, as evidenced by the emergence of Auro-3D from Belgium, and imm sound from Spain. (For the latest from San Franciso, Calif., see our Dolby update below.) On Oct. 21, Barcelona-based imm ( announced a deal with UCI/Cinesa for their proprietary sound system to be integrated into their cinemas in Italy, Germany and Spain. With 23.1 channel sound already installed at the time at Cinesa Principe Pio (Madrid), Ciudad de Marineda (La Coruña) and Cinemes Full HD (Barcelona), Feb. 2, 2012 marked the German debut at the iSens Theatre, as the premium concept has been branded, at UCI Kinowelt Medienhafen in Dusseldorf. While Germany also saw a major deal being drawn between CinemaxX and Meyer Sound, additional imm sound auditoriums were signed in Italy (Centro Divertimenti Fiumara, Genova), France (Pathé Brumath), The Netherlands (Pathé Haarlem) and nine at Cinematografica Araújo in Brazil, with two each in Maringá (state of Paraná), Campos (Rio de Janeiro) and Serra (Pará), and three in Guadalupe (Piauí).

“The year 2011 has been key to the expansion of the 3D immersive sound technology,” confirms marketing manager Alex Artigas. “Currently, imm sound is considered the best tri-dimensional audio system available in the market.”

Grupo Araújo also put the new Christie Duo to the test, installing the two-projector system for its branded MAX Screen. Whether purchased in a 2K or 4K Solaria package or as a standalone Integration Kit for existing projectors, Christie Duo delivers “the brightest 2K or 4K movie experience in 2D or 3D on the largest screens,” the company declared. Don Shaw, director of product management at Christie Entertainment Solutions, further describes brightness levels “up to twice as high as what can be achieved using the current large-format market leader—at a significant overall cost saving.” Marcos Araújo, director of the Brazilian Grupo, concurred. “Affordability, without sacrificing quality, is paramount for us and we are pleased to be partnering with Christie to bring the premium theatre experience to our customers.”

According to Shaw, another “early adopter” is ArcLight Cinemas, which retrofitted not just its legendary Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. “We’ve put our trust in a Christie Duo system to dazzle audiences,” commented Joe Miraglia, the circuit’s director of design, construction and facilities. “We look forward to receiving and installing the next components in this system—an automated alignment and calibration solution—to ensure optimal image quality and brightness, at 4K resolutions for our most discerning audiences.”

Barco officially launched Auro-3D with an original 11.1 mix of Red Tails in February 2012, but installations and auditorium upgrades had been underway since November of last year. “Installed by our dealer Nevafilm, Jam Hall in Petrogradsy, Russia, was the first in Europe,” details Brian Claypool, senior director of strategic business development for Barco’s Entertainment Division. “But Wangfujing Cinemas in Chengdu, China, actually finished the installation before Jam Hall. The difference is that Wangfujing didn’t open to the public until after Jam Hall.” (For more about the Nov. 8 launch, see FJI December 2011.) Additional systems followed at Cinemark Plano North (Dallas, Texas), AMC Aventura 24 (Miami, Florida area, just in time for ShowEast 2011) and Edwards Calabasas Stadium 6 (California). “The combination of ultra-bright, high-resolution projection with 3D audio has the potential ability to deliver a true-to-life reproduction of the drama onscreen,” Regal Entertainment Group’s chief purchasing officer, Rob Del Moro, noted about the latter. (For more on Regal’s recent activities, check out our sidebar.) “As we continue to evaluate this technology on performance and cost, we are intrigued by its possibilities.”

Damian Wardle, VP of worldwide theatre technology and presentation, said Cinemark is nothing short of “ecstatic,” and lauded “the creative opportunities made possible by Auro-3D as we continually strive to provide our customers with the ultimate cinema experience.”

On the image front, Wardle and his team continued to expand on Cinemark XD offerings throughout 2011. Highlights of new XD construction under the Cinemark NextGen design banner gleamed across Utah in Draper (12 screens, May 26) and Farmington (14 screens, July 15). “Cinemark got its start in the greater Salt Lake area over 25 years ago, so the state of Utah has always been considered a second home,” noted Alan Stock, then-chief executive officer. These “new Cinemark NextGen theatre will provide the perfect environment to enjoy all of Hollywood’s summer blockbuster movies.”

All year-round that environment offers “the latest technology, cutting-edge amenities and customer-preferred options all in one place, under one roof,” adds James Meredith, VP of marketing for Cinemark USA, to the benefit of our readers. “The theatres boast 100% digital projection, self-serve concession stands, RealD 3D capabilities, JBL sound systems, XD auditoriums. Floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall screens in every auditorium.” The Cinemark Stone Hill Town Center Theatre in Pflugerville, Texas (nine screens, April 29), and Cinemark Chesapeake Square Theatre in Chesapeake, Virginia (12 screens, Dec. 16), completed the 2011 line-up.

Carmike Cinemas expanded its large-screen offerings as well, with BigD (Digital Experience) auditoriums being retrofitted across the country. In July alone, the Columbus, Georgia-based circuit upped the presentation ante in its theatres in Billings, Montana (Shiloh 14), Savannah, Georgia (Wynnsong 11) and Tyler, Texas (Carmike 14). Following on Nov. 17, one of the 12 new screens at the Upland Square Shopping Center in West Pottsgrove marked the first foray of the “critically acclaimed ‘BigD’ auditorium” into the state of Pennsylvania. Measuring 62 feet wide (19 m) and nearly three stories tall, the big presentation is powered by a Christie Brilliant 3-D flash projector with a light output of 30,000 lumens. “To further enhance the experience,” the media release continued, “the custom QSC digital audio system is tuned to a 7.1 speaker array with 16 channels and the ability to upgrade to 11.1, a revolution in surround-sound technology with digital audio processing supported by quad-amplified, four-way speakers and six 21-inch subwoofers. The new, expanded configuration at the Pottsgrove Carmike 12 promises a new gold standard in unparalleled picture clarity and deep resonating digital sound.”

“If a theatre is designed for adequate acoustical properties to support 5.1,” Barco’s Claypool assures, “no acoustical changes are required for 11.1 Auro-3D. The installation and alignment can take as little as three to four days provided everything is well-prepared and staged beforehand. The proper design of the auditorium for the placement of the additional height channels is critical so that a smooth installation can occur.”

Having upgraded five locations to ETX: Enhanced Theatre Experience standards throughout 2011, not to mention numerous Dine-In Theatre conversions, AMC Entertainment knows a thing or two about smooth installations as well. “In addition to having to shut down an auditorium being renovated, there are construction and design challenges as well,” confirms Ryan Noonan, director of public relations at AMC. “In some cases, sections of common walls need to be removed to provide screen access points for the wall-to-wall sized screens.”

Since debuting ETX in March 2010 (as detailed in our October 2010 issue), the total number of enhanced screens has reached 16, including five 2011 launches at AMC 30 at the Block (West Orange, Calif.), AMC Tysons Corner 16 (McLean, Virginia), AMC Flatiron Crossing 14 (Broomfield, Colorado), AMC Randhurst 12 (Mt. Prospect, Illinois, and AMC Loews Alderwood 16 (Lynnwood, Washington). “During the renovation of an ETX auditorium,” Noonan says, “we completely upgrade the sight and sound systems, including a new, larger screen, digital projector and state-of-the-art sound system. We also look at the seating arrangement in the auditorium itself and may remove seats in order to maximize the viewing angles for the wall-to-wall movie-watching experience.” As a direct result, “we’ve received strong reviews from guests who experienced ETX,” Noonan confirms. “Guests seem to immediately notice the difference in an ETX auditorium.”

Going forward, “we’re always evaluating new opportunities, either through acquisitions or new builds,” Noonan adds. “We’ll continue to progress with our AMC Dine-In Theatres openings in 2012. We have already announced a new location in Marina Del Rey, California, which should be completed in the summer of 2012, and we’ll continue to explore the possibility of bringing the concept to new markets throughout the country.”

At National Amusements as well, “we are always looking for opportunities for new sites that we feel will help fill the needs of serving the markets where we currently reside, as well as potential new markets,” the circuit’s VP of operations Steve Horton says. “All of our locations now feature digital projection and we will continue to reinvest in our current buildings for upgrades to food service, seating and carpet and other items to maintain the high standards our patrons have come to expect.”

As one would expect from someone close to the pulse of cinema development, Mike Cummings of TK Architects, who opened our class in January, has more insights to share. “We are seeing a definite increase in new construction projects. Money seems to become available and developers and exhibitors are taking advantage of the low interest rates,” he believes. “In 2011, we have mainly seen a continuation of our clients investing in and improving their existing facilities, and the recent upswing in new construction activity has us optimistic about 2012 and beyond.”

Dolby 7.1 Hits 3,400 Mark
Since launching in June of 2010 with Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3 over 50 films have been or will be mixed in 7.1 channels, and Dolby Surround 7.1 has reached approximately 3,400 global installations. With strong showings across the Americas (1,460) and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (450), the Asia/Pacific region tops the class of 2011 report card with some 1,560 installations.

“Dolby has seen tremendous growth in Asia, specifically from China, India, Thailand and Indonesia,” confirms Stuart Bowling, senior worldwide technical marketing manager. “China and India growth has been led by local productions adopting Dolby Surround 7.1.” Dum Maaro Dum was the first 7.1 feature film in India, followed by box-office hits like Bodyguard, Ra.One, Rockstar and Agneepath. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen and The Lost Bladesman were the first two titles in Hong Kong and Lee’s Adventure recently took that 7.1 crown for mainland China.

Not surprisingly, Dolby and Bowling are “extremely happy with the adoption of the 7.1 format by content creators and studios worldwide and we continue to work closely with the industry to provide support and demonstrate the benefits of the 7.1 format.” One example is Dolby’s “Surrounded” event series, “which provides a platform for content creators to discuss the topic of immersive entertainment.” Since conducting the first presentation in San Francisco this past summer, Dolby has hosted “Surrounded” panels in Toronto, Sydney and most recently in India, “showing the global reach Dolby has built with the content-creation community.”

Another Regal Year
Film Journal International is pleased to present exclusive feedback from Dick Westerling, senior VP, marketing and advertising, at Regal Entertainment Group, who takes us on a personal tour of the Class activities conducted by the largest circuit in the world, operating 6,614 screens in 527 locations in 37 states and the District of Columbia (Feb. 13, 2012).

Regal was pleased to host grand-opening activities for four theatres in 2011. The four new Regal Entertainment Group theatres are based in shopping districts with tremendous and loyal followings and Regal believes that we will build on our existing patron base as more moviegoers are attracted to these new entertainment centers.

The busy summer movie season was a great time to offer an all-new, state-of-the-art theatre to our patrons in Watertown, New York. With stadium seating and digital surround sound, Salmon Run Stadium 12 provides an outstanding experience for moviegoers who eagerly watched 11 months of construction at the mall. Grand-opening events raised money for local charities including a children’s clinic and the Children’s Miracle Network. Watertown is home to Fort Drum Army Base and Regal was proud to salute the troops with a fundraiser for the 10th Mountain Division Scholarship Fund.

At Clifton Park, a new theatre was just part of the transformation for the mall. Large sections of the shopping center were demolished to transform it into a new town-square design. And the new Regal Cinemas features the first RPX theatre built new. Previously, the Regal Premium Experience has only been added to existing theatres. At Clifton Park, we had the opportunity to construct the unique RPX design in a brand-new facility and the result truly impressed our guests.

In May of 2010, an unprecedented flood swamped Opry Mills in Nashville, Tennessee. One of the greatest attractions was Regal’s 20-screen theatre and IMAX Experience, which was forced to go dark after being submerged in floodwaters seven feet deep. Workers had to use boats to first assess damage and then mounted recovery efforts for equipment stranded in the projection booth. In 2011, Regal led the way for the return of Opry Mills as one of the very first attractions to reopen in the mall. Only the exterior walls remained, as every other wall, seat, curtain, screen, floor and surface was replaced due to damage from the flood. Some of the new additions include reserved seating in the Regal IMAX Theatre and an expanded menu at the concession stand including chicken sandwiches, Black Angus cheeseburgers, beer and pizza.

The seven-screen theatre at Fashion Island has been developed into a unique entertainment and dining destination in Newport Beach, California. Island Cinema is transformed into an upscale, state-of-the-art theatre offering a premier moviegoing experience. Patrons are greeted by a spacious, luxurious lobby with a classic Italian look that reflects the grandeur of Island Cinema. In addition to traditional movie snacks, Island Cinema offers an enhanced menu including quiche of the day, gourmet pizza, chipotle chicken panini, vegetarian spring rolls, hummus with grilled pita, and more. Pastries and specialty coffee drinks, as well as beer, wine and champagne, are also offered to moviegoers.

Regal’s commitment to delivering premium experiences to our patrons is evidenced by the large number of our theatres adding either RPX or IMAX during 2011. This aggressive rollout is a reflection of our patrons’ strong interest in finding the very best moviegoing experience. Overwhelmingly these RPX and IMAX theatres have been warmly embraced and preferred by patrons. By identifying the very best viewing experience in our multiplex with a premium brand, this enables Regal moviegoers to make their ticket purchases and plan their evening knowing that they’ll enjoy the film just the way the filmmakers intended. RPX also emphasizes the power of sound in a premium auditorium, along with a pristine picture projected on the giant screen.

Regal has announced plans for the opening of nine new theatres in 2012. Their scheduling in 2012 is a reflection of how the economic environment for new retail construction has improved. The Regal construction projects “Coming Soon” are a combination of new retail developments and existing malls where construction of a theatre will inject new life. Our company’s rollout of RPX and IMAX amenities will also continue well into 2012 as our patrons continue to seek the ultimate movie experience at Regal.