As I mentioned in my last Skyfall essay, one of the reasons my wife and I ended up seeing Skyfall the other night (her first viewing, my second) was to try out a new Cinépolis theater that just opened relatively near us. The gimmick behind this somewhat new chain is simple: It's a movie theater with extra-large reclining leather chairs and a full-service dining menu and a wait staff that tends to your needs during the picture. It's been in its current 'VIP' form in Mexico since 1999 and has quickly made its debut in California over the last year or so. It's not the first of its kind to open as Gold Class Cinemas has been operating in Pasadena since December 2009. I was actually planning on making a trip down there back when it opened but life got in the way (my daughter had the 'stay home from school sniffles' pretty much the entire holiday break period). After David Poland panned the place I lost enthusiasm for trying it. Three years later, with a new chain and a location almost right next door, I finally got a crack at what amounts to 'dinner with a movie'. The verdict? Well, it's a gorgeous theater and the chairs as comfortable as all heck. I wish the screen was a little bigger, but the projection and sound were flawless and once again I was reminded of how blindly beautiful The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey looks while trying to gin up interest in actually seeing it. And the food is actually pretty good, although a bit overpriced even by movie theater standards. But the experience feels less like actually seeing a film in a theater and more like the very best possible variation of watching a film at home.
First and foremost, the fact that I was viewing a film that I had seen before somewhat changed the experience. Ordering a meal and eating said meal takes up your attention in obvious ways that blindly sticking your hand into a bag of popcorn does not. Since I had already seen Skyfall, I was less concerned about looking away from the screen at a pivotal moment. But if we return to this theater for a first-time viewing of something, say Jack Reacher or The Gangster Squad, that I haven't seen before, how will the distraction of full-service dining affect the film-going experience? I was certainly aware of a certain distraction this time around. The food arrived right during the initial action sequence and I was barely paying attention to the train fight as I arranged my chicken tenders (delicious, but twice the price of AMC's equally delicious chicken strips) and chicken Cesar pita (not bad, I've had much better elsewhere) for consumption. Even the chocolate-drizzled kettle corn that we ordered after the first act was a distraction, as it arrived not in a bucket but in a thin container that resembled a large whine glass. It looks pretty and it's perhaps the best chocolate popcorn I've ever tasted, but it's v-shape makes it not terribly safe for just putting it on the floor and out of your line of sight. My wife's rather large cheese/cracker plate was arguably more appropriate snacking food, as it just came on a plate that could be comfortably placed on the tray.