It’s the weekend and you want to see a movie. But you don’t want to deal with screaming kids, crying babies and audience members carrying on an ongoing dialogue with the characters onscreen.
Sure, you could just stay home with a DVD, but where’s the fun in that? This week, another alternative emerged on Pasadena’s movie scene with the arrival of Gold Class Cinemas, offering patrons a view of first-run films while enjoying appealing food, wine and beer in lieu of popcorn and soda.
Even better, there’s table service by waiters at tables resting comfortably between pairs of recliners that tilt all the way back into beds if viewers so choose — complete with blankets and pillows. Through it all, theater staff is as stealthy and efficient as ninjas, barely distracting a moment of viewing.
Patrons ride down two escalators to the swank underground lounges in the theater’s core (which formerly housed Laemmle’s One Colorado theaters) and wait until being admitted to their seats 15 minutes before show time. It’s like waiting for a flight in a frequent flyer VIP lounge.
“We believe what people need now, more than ever, is escapism, and Gold Class Cinemas is providing the ultimate escape at a reasonable price,” says Tim Carroll, Global CMO of Village Roadshow Limited, Gold Class Cinemas’ parent company. “Gold Class Cinemas is an affordable luxury that is accessible to everyone. We are going to showwide range of films — from the biggest blockbusters to the finest independent features to films families can see together.” As one might expect, all the luxury comes at a bit of a price, with admission running $22 weekdays and $29 weekends. With food (gourmet sandwiches, burgers, pizza and pasta) mostly in the $10 to $15 range, patrons can expect to pay $40 to $50 per person. Yet despite the higher prices, theaters like the Gold Class (which also owns two theaters in the Chicago suburbs and one in Redmond, Wash.) are “exploding” nationwide, according to Amy Nicholson, editor-in-chief of Box Office magazine.
“A decade ago, you could practically count them on your hands — now there’re at least 400 with more opening every month,” says Nicholson. “My theory is that going upscale is a way for theaters to remind film lovers that going to the movies is an event. DVDs are convenient, but the movies are a night out.
“In the ’90s, theaters weren’t making an argument for their own existence,” continues Nicholson. “Now they are, and premium theaters are a smart way to win back people who thought their multiplex was too crowded, chaotic and overpriced. Their quality makes their prices feel like a good deal — it’s a complete package.”
Nicholson notes that the premium concept is not designed “exclusively for boomers and the art house crowd.” While the first attempt at a premium cinema run by a major theater chain — a General Cinemas theater in the Chicago suburb of Lombard — failed with the demise of its parent chain, a more successful model has been the nine-theater Alamo Drafthouse chain based in Austin, Texas, or the perennially popular Brew and View at the Vic in Chicago.
“They do tremendous business among the hip and pack them in even for cult ’80s flicks people already own on DVD,” adds Nicholson. “I’d argue that high-end theaters should program a blend of indie flicks, foreign films, blockbusters, and midnight revivals — especially if they’re selling booze.”
The Gold Class Cinema was welcomed by Pasadena leaders with little or no controversy, a different reaction from Pacific Theatres’ proposal in 2000 to open a premium venue in the Stats Building at Raymond Avenue and Green Street. Back then, the city had just invested $30 million into new parking structures and the then-new Paseo Colorado mall, housing 14 screens just blocks away.
“The city staff was not supportive of a new theater there because of our investment in Paseo Colorado and the theaters there, as well as our pending interest in the Playhouse market area,” recalls City Councilman Steve Madison, whose district contains both the Paseo and Gold Classic complexes. “We didn’t want to compete with Paseo Colorado, because the city had invested $30 million in it and wanted to get the money back.
“The new theater is different because 1) it was already a theater and 2) it’s not going to compete directly with the Paseo Colorado because it’s a different demographic,” adds Madison. “I go to the Paseo a lot with my kids, and that’s what it is — kids, teens, families. This is higher-end films and pursuing adult couples and dates with finer dining and wine.”
The high-class atmosphere of the Gold Class facility might make one think its main competition is Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 just down Colorado Boulevard. But Laemmle Cinemas President Greg Laemmle isn’t worried.
“We’re curious to see how it works, but there’s no great concern,” says Laemmle. “While we can’t ignore certain realities of creature comfort, the primary motivation for seeing a movie is what the film is, not whether they can get a drink in the auditorium. If they’re showing different kinds of films than us, there may be no pressure whatsoever.”