Ed on by for Seattle’s Cinerama Experience

4 Jul

10548066_10205688374821130_5286970000640909208_oBy Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

The Cinerama is a very special movie theatre located in Seattle, Washington that brings back all that’s enjoyable about watching films on the big screen. It’s been raved about by a few friends who have been there more than I. To learn about its history is one thing, but to know what it’s become is another. When the operation started up in 1963, just after the Century 21 Exposition, it had its share of problems when interest in getting a proper movie-going experience went on a decline in decades that followed. Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, loved coming to this theatre and rescued it in the late 90’s.

Stepping into this building’s interior was like a walk back through time. I was greeted with friendly smiles and helpful assistance from the staff. The next thing that caught my eye were the displays of authentic movie and television costumes in the foyer. The concession looked like a massive stand that offered a bit of everything. I was reminded of how The Vic Theatre back home displayed their food items and when considering the age of that home-based theatre to this one, I would not be surprised if they were built in the same decade.

IMG_1101Because the Cinerama is more modernized and has stable support of a film-going public, this operation can offer a lot more to sample. The menu suggested food items that I could not even try to devour in one visit. There were at least five tills with workers next to it ready to serve a hungry public. I had to wonder what I should get to eat. To decide on what I really wanted was not challenging as I knew I had to go for the popcorn that’s been raved about by many people.

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“Yes, our chocolate popcorn is unfortunately world-famous and that’s about what half the customers come for. Honestly, it’s not that special of a concession,” joked Ethan Caldwell, general manager.

He did offer his advice in what to order though. He suggests the hot dogs and pretzels. The former is sourced from Painted Hills, a ranch located in Eastern Oregon, and they are an all-beef 100% grass-fed product. They get some product from Pike Place Market and where they source their pretzels is from Tom Douglas’ Brave Horse Tavern. He also reveals that this place offers a great variety of locally crafted beers, ciders and wines.

If it was not for my Asian blood, I would’ve gotten some alcohol to go with my huge meal. I would’ve loved to sample a bit of everything. I did get a bag of the famous popcorn and it’s candy coated goodness filled me up quite fast. It was a good thing I had the hot dog first. I enjoyed the texture and the bun was lovingly steamed up just the way I like it — soft!

I now know that in any trip I make to Seattle, I will have to dedicate a night just to watch any movie that’s playing here and sample something different. This place does everything right that my local Cineplex does wrong. While they’ve gone corporate (i.e. cheap) with who makes their foods, this place serves local goods. When all their treats include meats from Uli’s Famous Sausage, sweets from Theo Chocolate and ice cream from Full Tilt, my waistline will hurt but oh baby! Finally armed with food, I made my way to my seat within.

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When one of my fondest childhood memories of being inside a playhouse with balcony seating to see The Empire Strikes Back, no other theatres I’ve been to since then have recreated that magic for me, a wide-eyed speckled nerd, who loves watching cinema inside a vintage movie theatre. There’s something to be said about a oridyct when the curtains split before you before a cinematic presentation. Baz Luhrmann‘s Moulin Rouge fakes it, but when it’s the real thing and the band starts playing, the blood gets going. Sure, the public paid a quarter back then for a symphony orchestra to play music to accompany a silent film. I wondered where the band pit was when I stepped into the Cinerama’s 570 seat theatre for the first time. I’m certain that if this business wanted to, live concerts can be held here and the acoustics would be phenomenal.

While not everyone will be captivated by the incredible sound, enthralled by the crystal clear display or lulled into the luxury seating that this theatre has, I noticed. The movie I went to see was Jurassic World in Dolby3D. When compared to RealD, I loved how clearer the image looked. There was no shade of grey (technically a loss of lumens) murking the screen. I thought I’d be looking through multi-coloured specs when I examined the glasses; the green and purples just disappeared when the movie started playing.

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If only I bought my movie ticket sooner than later, I might have sat in this auditorium’s sweet spot to really hear how the sound can put me into the film. Caldwell mentioned that they have 110 powered Meyer speakers in this theatre to create the Dolby ATMOS matrix. What’s special about this sound system is that it supports up to 128 discrete audio tracks. A sound of a dinosaur’s stomp can travel down the array to make it sound like it’s walking around inside this theatre before it shows up on the screen. When considering how far back I sat, the roar came from center right. I sat near the projection booth.

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Caldwell also described the projection setup. This consists of a Christie 6P digital laser projection system. When the regular screen is not being used, this theatre has a proper curved screen (measuring 90 x 30′) to which three panel cinerama prints like How the West was Won can be projected onto. This theatre is only one of three theatres to have this technology remaining. This wider screen is also used to play 2001 A Space Odyssey, He was proud to reveal that this movie played here for 22 days, thus making it one of this cinema house’s longest running and well-received films. When this operation can only support showing one movie at a time, the turn around has to be quick especially when there’s competing movie houses nearby. I haven’t been to AMC Pacific Place, Regal Meridian or the IMAX Cinema at Pacific Science Center. Only one of these three interests me. If I ever happen to find myself staying closer the Space Needle, I will have to check out the IMAX theatre.

According to Caldwell, to know that people will come to his theatre to watch classic prints gives him pleasure. He describes the turnout for these movies, especially 2001, is just phenomenal. He’s certainly very happy to know that this operation he manages has the support of the movie buffs and said, “Anytime we bring this particular movie back, it always sells out because everybody knows exactly what they’re going to get.”

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When there’s a fair number of people coming here for movies presented from reels, he also revealed that this operation has a team of video projectionists who handle the difficult chores. “They’ve worked together for a long time, some of the guys for upwards to 20 years, and they make our life [from the business perspective] pretty easy,” said Caldwell.

When this place hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, to have that support is definitely needed. And for the nerd like me who comes to this city for these special events, to know that this operation works in concert with many of the staples that defines this city, maybe its time to relocate my base of operations. There’s a lot more nerd culture to experience down in Seattle than in Victoria and Vancouver combined. The Cineplex Odeon Corporation’s Victoria based operations just does not cut it anymore.

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