Seattle’s historic Cinerama Theatre, reopening Thursday night with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1” after several months’ closure, has a new look — inside and out.
Those driving past the 1960s-era single-screen theater in recent weeks will have noticed its new outfit: a red-and-blue retro mural, covering two sides of the theater’s building on Fourth Avenue and Lenora Street, created by Don Clark of the Seattle design firm Invisible Creature.
Inside, the lobby features new displays from owner Paul Allen’s movie-memorabilia collection (who knew Jim Carrey’s Riddler suit was so sparkly?) and updated concessions featuring local beer, cider and wine, Tom Douglas pretzels and hot dogs for all tastes.
But it’s inside the auditorium itself where you’ll see the biggest changes, in Cinerama’s fourth and most substantial renovation since Allen purchased the theater in 1998. Remember those soft but oddly bouncy red Cinerama seats, with cramped legroom and a too-shallow slope? The new seats are red, but the similarity ends there: The theater’s capacity has been drastically reduced (from 798 to 570), and while the result isn’t quite stadium seating, it’s pretty close.
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A test-sit proved the new, wider seats quite comfortable, with unobstructed views and plenty of room to stretch your legs. And, in a new twist for Cinerama, all seats are reserved.
From that seat, things look, and sound, pretty good. A new white screen, framed with lush-looking mauve curtains that look like they could cover a football field, has been installed, with the traditional Cinerama curved screen stored safely behind it.
Ryan Hufford, senior systems engineer for Allen’s Vulcan, noted in a walk-through Friday that the previous sound at Cinerama had “a muddy texture” to it. No longer: The sound system has been overhauled, with new speakers everywhere (now 110 of them, compared with about 65 before), adjustments to the room’s acoustics, and new technology from Dolby Atmos and Meyer Sound.
In the projection room, a new state-of-the-art Christie 6P laser projector, with both 3-D and 2-D capacity, resides beside the theater’s 35mm and 70mm equipment, as well as its 1950s-era three-strip Cinerama projector. Seattle’s Cinerama is, said theater operator Greg Wood, the only theater in the world with this particular combination of formats.
All this comes with an increased ticket price, but one not wildly out of line with other downtown theaters. Cinerama tickets now cost a flat $15, for matinee or evening shows, 2-D or 3-D. You can purchase and choose seats online for an extra $1.50, or do so in person at the box office for no fee.
By comparison, nearby AMC Pacific Place and Regal Meridian downtown are approximately $12-$13 for an evening 2-D screening; $15-$16 for 3-D; matinees are a couple of dollars less. Downtown’s other massive screen, the Boeing IMAX Cinema at Pacific Science Center, is $14.75 (plus $2.50 online booking); it will close in the spring for a renovation of its own.
With the vast array of new housing within a few blocks of Fourth and Lenora, Cinerama is becoming, for many, a neighborhood theater. Wood said he’s excited to book new film festivals, in addition to Cinerama’s ongoing annual science-fiction and horror-film festivals — and that there “will definitely be a 70mm presence” at the theater for 2015. Upcoming programming will feature Cinerama’s trademark mix of blockbusters with more unexpected films — “similar,” he said, “but magnifying.”
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org