Multiplex, Shmultiplex! Part 1: The Dinner-and-a-Movie Concept
By Collin Souter
Posted 05/27/04 23:00:12
I dread this summer. The crop of movies looks awful and has been so far. Too much “White Chicks.” Too much “Garfield.” Too much “Catwoman.” Face it, we’re going to need serious incentives to get our fatty butts into the theaters this year and I don’t mean cross-promotional product tie-ins. I mean, we need a good reason to go to the movies in spite of the movies themselves and I’m here to provide that. There are plenty of diverse movie-going opportunities for drive-in enthusiasts, busy moms and dads, claustrophobics, drunks and people who didn’t feel the least bit phased by “Super Size Me.” So, welcome, dear readers, to our latest feature series: MULTIPLEX, SHMULTIPLEX! Dread not the summer of 2004! Just dread the films…
Our first attraction:Dinner and a Movie at the Hollywood Blvd. Theater.
I’ve been skeptical of this concept since it originated a few years ago. The thought of having dim waiters prancing around with large food trays full of steaks, potatoes and peas while patrons shout out, “My good man, can I get a re-fill?” not to mention the scraping, clanging and dropping of silverware all while I’m trying to watch a movie…well, it never appealed to me. Who benefits from this concept? People “on the go” who can’t spare three or four hours in a given evening to separate the dinner from the movie? Will these same automatons also be yapping into their cell phones during the final battle sequence of “Return of the King”? And doesn’t the theater have to be dark? How will I see what I’m eating?
As it turns out, the dinner-and-a-movie concept works on some levels, but fails on others. My girlfriend and I went on a Saturday night to see the 9:00pm showing of “Shrek 2.” The theater itself sits tucked away unassumingly in the corner of a strip mall in suburban Woodridge, Illinois. It has four screens, all of which cater to the concept, as opposed to some theaters that devote only one screen. They stick to mainstream hits. “Shrek 2” took two screens while the other theaters showed “Van Helsing” and “Troy.”
The low-lit interior of Hollywood Blvd looks wonderful and showcases a variety of movie posters that make standing in the lobby a treat in itself. Posters lurk everywhere from “E.T.” to Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid”; from “West Side Story” to “Evils of the Night”; from the original “Ocean’s 11” to Russ Myer’s “Super Vixen.” With replicas of Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame also covering the walls, Hollywood Blvd also tries to capture the Mann’s Chinese Theater feel with a gaudy oriental foyer with little bells and lanterns. Of course, this being Chicago, you also get a nice statue of The Blues Brothers sitting on a bench. The presence of fake palm trees help round out the Hollywood motif.
While marveling at this movie fan’s paradise, you can get a drink at the fully stocked bar, where I ordered a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade for $3.95. You cannot be seated until they clear the theater out from the last show. Every thirty seconds, we heard the distorted and over-bearing announcement “We are still seating for ‘Troy.’ Repeat: We are seating for the 8:30 show of ‘Troy’.” For those of you who have been used to the ban on smoking in public places, the Hollywood Blvd still allows it, which can be a curse or a blessing, depending on where you stand on the issue. I’m not a fan, but the Hollywood Blvd does proclaim itself a “cinema, bar and eatery,” so what do you expect?
While waiting to be seated, you can have a laugh at the menu so you can have your order ready by the time you get in the theater. They obviously had a lot of fun assigning names to the food items. Lord of the Onion Rings, Freddie’s Fingers and Fries, Honey I Blew Up the Salad, to name just a few. On the pizza side, you can order The Linda Blair, which consists of chicken, spinach, artichokes and cheese. For sandwiches, you can get A Sandwich Called Wanda, the Whoopi Goldburger or The Deliverance (Cajun chicken breast). You can wash it all down with a Tequila Mockingbird. The average price for a meal is between $6 and $10, very reasonable. You can also order the more traditional popcorn and candy, but why?
They let people in about fifteen minutes before showtime. The interior of the auditorium looked splendid. With large movie posters on the walls and more fake palm trees, the theater has terraced with rows of unbolted black office chairs behind long red tables. On the floor, a family can sit at one of many round tables. We sat at the front of the stadium section. The trailers started at 9pm with no commercials (yes!). They played at normal volume, which means you have to shout your food order at your waiter. I ordered the Arnold Schwarzenburger (1/2 lb meatcake burger with fries and a pickle).
The delicious food comes within the first fifteen minutes of the film. Here, the experience becomes everything I feared it would. While watching “Shrek 2,” our waiter delivered our food and whispered to us, “Did you need anything else? Did you want another lemonade? If you need anything else, my name is (?). Thanks. Enjoy the show.” The food is delivered on lightweight plates and baskets with plastic cutlery. A burger is pretty easy to manage in this setting, but a salad becomes something one must pay attention to and can distract one from being engaged in the film. Oh, and did I happen to mention that the “No one under 18 admitted after 7pm” policy was not enforced? Kids and drunks: Not a good mix, though the adults did behave themselves.
Try as the waiters might to be unobtrusive, the experience lends itself to multiple distractions. Much of my skepticism turned out to be warranted, yet because I had already seen “Shrek 2,” I could ignore much of the noise that went on around us. During the film, people would be ordering more food to their waiters and not very quietly either. Our waiter came up to us about four times during this 90-minute movie. All around us, we would hear, “Can I take that for you? Would you like anything else? Do you need a re-fill? I’ll be back with your check. Thank you.” Can you imagine trying to watch a heavy thinker of a film such as “Mystic River” or “The Passion of the Christ” with these kinds of distractions?
So, my overall impression of the dinner-and-a-movie concept goes like this: It’s perfect for the casual movie watcher who does not get bothered easily. The concept works fine for lighthearted, entertaining no-brainers such as “Freaky Friday” or “Anger Management.” “Shrek 2” requires your fullest attention, as you’re likely to miss several blink-and-you-miss-it jokes due to your wait staff or your salad dressing. To the easily annoyed film watcher, such as myself, I recommend trying it once on a movie you’ve either seen already or a no-brainer you have mild interest in seeing. The right flick can make this concept a genuine good time at the movies. As it stands, I don’t look at it as something that will become a habit, though getting drunk, stuffing myself silly and having a few laughs at the expense of “Catwoman” sounds mighty tempting...
I found only a few web sites for dinner-and-a-movie theaters. If you know of any more please feel free to email the links to me at email@example.com and I’ll post them right here. (I just Googled variations of ‘Dinner Movie Theaters’ and didn’t find much).
Hollywood Bar and Filmworks in Indianapolis
Muvico Palace 20 in Florida
Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge in Washington D.C.
Aimee's Dinner and a Movie in New York
Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas
Route One Cinema Pub in North Attleboro, Massachusetts