The historic downtown theater, closed since late August for renovations, reopens late Thursday for a midnight screening of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I." Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald gives you a sneak preview.

Share story

Four popcorn poppers at Cinerama, where once was just one? Be still, my heart.

The historic downtown theater, closed since late August for renovations, reopens Thursday for a midnight screening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part I.” And, despite those new popcorn poppers, its biggest change will be one moviegoers may not notice: Greg Wood, the new operator of the theater.

The movie house had been managed by national chain AMC until August, when theater owner Vulcan (Paul Allen’s company) severed that relationship. Vulcan hired Wood, who also owns and operates the Roseway in Portland, a 1920s-era theater, which he refurbished and reopened as a first-run cinema in 2008.

“I view it as Seattle’s living room,” said Wood last week of Cinerama. And that living room’s just gotten a facelift. The remodel, says Wood, is primarily a technical upgrade: It now has a new digital projector with 3D capability, an updated sound system, a new giant screen (making for, Wood says, a brighter and more brilliant picture; it’ll be the same size as before). Purists needn’t fret: The theater still has its film projector and will continue to screen occasional movies in 70-mm or Cinerama (a now-rare, three-strip format). Wood looks forward to bringing back the annual Cinerama Festival, sometime next year.

Though the Cinerama lobby retains its midcentury-kitsch look (the theater dates from 1963), it’s been spiffed up with new carpet and display cases for a revolving selection of movie memorabilia, including costumes from “The Matrix,” “TRON,” “Blade” and others. Moviegoers will see a big change at the concessions counter, which has been redesigned with a new menu and new pricing — a small popcorn, likely to be fresh thanks to all those poppers, is now just $2. Local food vendors have been brought into the mix, such as Cupcake Royale (soon to offer, Wood hopes, movie-themed cupcakes), Theo chocolates and Caffé Vita coffee.

While Wood is pleased with the renovations and new 3D technology (previously Cinerama had to screen even “Avatar” in 2D), he emphasizes that the theater won’t be offering blockbusters only. “Because we have 3D doesn’t mean we are taking every 3D movie,” he said, adding that he hopes to book a mixture of big Hollywood movies (“TRON: Legacy” will follow “Harry Potter”), art-house fare and local film-festival offerings. Presenting that kind of variety, he said, means that everyone in Seattle — not just blockbuster-movie fans — “can come and enjoy the theater.”

Lyn Tangen, director of corporate communications at Vulcan, said Wood’s experience in making the Roseway a neighborhood destination was part of why he was chosen. “The thing about Greg is that he’s very interested in trying to connect with community. We’re all behind that. We really like the idea of making the theater more available for community and nonprofit events.”

Wood’s excited to get on with the business of running the theater, saying he’s already begun to book film- festival events for early 2011. And while he’s resigned to a lot of driving between Portland and Seattle in the near future, he’s grateful for the opportunity to step in and run “one of the most treasured theaters on the planet.”

Starting Thursday, all of Seattle gets another chance to find out why.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or