Evaluating the experience at independent and chain movie theaters/
I love movies.I haven’t seen nearly as many I should, but the ones I have seen, I’ve made sure to be good ones. And I find that one of the most important parts of a moviegoing adventure, which can really make or break your opinion of a film, is the physical cinema experience. Because you aren’t in your living room, and you can’t control the volume or the audience, how the theater approaches everything from snacks to seats to sound has a big impact. So I did a compare and contrast of my recent film experiences at an independent theater and a theater chain to see how they stack up.
Built in 1911, the Esquire began as a 500-seat, single auditorium theater, and became an art-film theater house in the 1950s. Closed in 1983, nearly turned into a Wendy’s, saved by the Clifton Theatre Corporation and ultimately reopened in 1990, the Esquire retains an old-timey flavor upon first sight. The flashing bulbs on the marquee, the Art Deco wall tiles and the quaint, outdoor ticket booth never fail to excite me. Fantastic indie movie posters for current screenings are displayed along either side of the Esquire’s vintage exterior, and inside is just as original. Seeing a movie at the Esquire is definitely a unique experience.
On this particular night, the Esquire was showing a sold-out screening of Jim Henson’s 1986 cult classic Labyrinth. The theater has six screening rooms, one of which is the “large” one where they show special one-off screenings like Labyrinth (and the upcoming Little Shop of Horrors and Pyscho). Joined by six friends, I grabbed a seat front and center to revel in all of David Bowie’s campy, tight-pantsed glory.
On special screening nights, I’ve found that the audience unites as one, excited to see a film that left the big screen decades ago. Something magical happens when your childhood memories are 20 feet tall and the theater surround sound encompasses you in a fairytale land you still believe in, deep down.
On that note, every other Saturday at midnight, the Esquire screens The Rocky Horror Picture Show, presented by the Denton Affair. Created by two fans back in 1979, the Denton Affair encourages audience members to dress up and actively participate in the showing of the cult classic. Props, shouted lines and costumes are de rigueur. The Esquire has other regular special one-night engagements, usually fitting within a holiday or month theme, so like them on Facebook to keep up-to-date with the latest screenings.
The Esquire also boasts an open food policy, meaning you can bring your own food into the theater and aren’t chastised for partaking in the booze available for purchase at the back refreshment bar. This is probably the most realistically refreshing part of seeing a movie at the Esquire — besides the chance to catch a lesser-shown movie that doesn’t hit the big-box theater circuit. You can drink alcohol and you won’t get robbed spending $16 on over-priced and over-buttered popcorn and a jumbo pop.
I sipped on a Yuengling, chowed on Skyline and reveled in every over-the-top moment of Labyrinth.
Rave Motion Pictures
Picture this, my friends: not a drop of chemical-butter on the carpet, no lines, a bar, lounge seats that recline and a waiter. That’s just a smidgen of what awaits you when you select the VIP seating experience at Florence’s Rave Motion Pictures.
I went on a Monday night (hence the lack of lines, I’m sure) to check out Looper, a time-travel mind-bender starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. And what’s that you say? Would I like a vodka tonic while watching? Don’t mind if I do.
When I was first told about VIP seating, I just assumed it was the upper level of the theater with a mini bar in the condiment area. As it turns out, Rave is really onto something. They’ve given seeing a movie in a chain theater, admittedly not always the most pleasant situation, an upscale makeover.
The fully stocked bar is centrally located in the lounge, and they even serve entrees. The prices are a little steep, but comparable to what you’d pay for a popcorn-and-pop combo at any other chain theater. A waiter/theater employee seats you at your pre-selected and super comfy loveseat-like lounge chair, and then you’re shown a magical button you can press to have your VIP server bring you more booze or food.
I discovered that you have to close your tab at the front bar before reopening it with the theater server, which is kind of redundant, but whatever. I’m not complaining too much if a nice person brings me another drink when I so desire, ensuring I don’t have to miss a second of the movie.
And did I mention the VIP area is quiet? No one under the age of 21 is allowed in VIP, which is awesome and automatically cuts the chatty background noise. It was so nice to not hear sniffling kids or whispering, giggling teenagers. I didn’t think I was that cranky old lady in the theater, but I totally am. I relished the entire experience. Also, it was so clean. Really a nice touch to set Rave apart from other chain theaters.
Obviously, this is one for the adults, but I think it would be totally acceptable for you to park your kids downstairs in the main theater and then snuggle up to your sweetie for a good two hours in the adult-land of VIP seating upstairs. If I had kids, I’d save on the sitter and do just that.