The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Cinemas experience new usage, not closure
By , Staff Reporter
Published: January 30 2013
On a blustery, cold Seattle Saturday afternoon in the 1920s, where would you find the locals? At a double feature playing in the closest neighborhood theater, staying warm and dry with their friends and enjoying the multiple entertainments of the evening.
Theaters were the meeting places for many Seattleites before the days of TV, computers and the Internet, when it is easier to download a movie onto your computer from the comfort of home than it is to go to the grocery store.
Over the years, movie making and watching technology has changed dramatically. In 1926, when the Uptown Theater in Lower Queen Anne opened, it was a modern, hip theater with all the technology the day had to offer. Today, it is representative of a time that is long-gone. The timeworn building, old design and small size don’t bring in as many customers as the shiny, new megaplex theaters with their sleek designs, shiny elevators and multiple floors of snacks, huge screens and digital technology.
In the past three years, movie technology has been rapidly changing. Many movie theater chains would rather sell old theaters than go through the expense of updating the screens, projectors and other technologies that have been changing. Where you once experienced a movie through a projector screen, with a projectionist working hard to switch heavy film rolls off and on the projector, the experience can now be made with a box that has an on/off switch.
The age of digital technology began to expand in 2005, when the first digital movie technology was introduced in a theater in the U.K. They got rid of all of their 35mm film reels, which were heavy and costly to buy. Along with the film reels went the jobs of the projectionists. The digital boom really took root a few years ago when the production of 3D movies spiraled up. 3D movies could not be played on film reel, so many movie theater moguls decided to spend the large chunk of money it took to update the theaters they currently had, as well as equip all their new theaters. Hulking hard drives now store a theater’s entire movie database electronically.
In the long run, movie theaters are saving money with the switch. It’s cheaper, especially labor-wise because they do not have to spend money on a projectionist in every theater room. One person could run an entire theater’s programming with a few switches of buttons on a laptop. Celluloid reels cost almost six times as much as the hard drives that theaters have installed. Fewer people are going to the movies according to Business Week, who conducted a study that concluded six out of 10 Americans are likely to rarely or never go to the movies.
The majority of movie theaters in the United States are owned by four major companies: AMC, Regal Cinema Group, Cinemark Theaters and National Amusements. Theaters that aren’t bringing in enough guests and still have outdated technology have often been sold off by these companies rather than going through the costly digitization of a theater, which not only includes replacing all the projectors with hard drives, but also replacing and updating every aspect of the theater, such as chairs, décor, and most importantly, giant, costly screens that allow viewers to view the films. Uptown Theater in Lower Queen Anne is an example of a historical movie theater that did not make the cut. Rather than renovating it, AMC announced in November 2010 that it would close the theater.
Luckily, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) rescued the theater and turned it into something special. After a deep-clean, extensive interior remodel and application of a fat wad of cash, Uptown Theater reopened to the public nearly a year after it was closed in late October 2011.
The theater is now the home of SIFF. With three screens, the not-for-profit company runs year-long programming with events such as the release of old films like Lawrence of Arabia (1962), special features such as Women in Cinema and above all, their huge film festival that takes place every summer.
Like the case with Uptown Theater, someone will either step in to save a theater, or it will be sold off and often demolished, such as the Queen Anne Theater (originally the Cheerio) that has since been replaced by the Gilbert Apartments in Upper Queen Anne.
Sometimes generous Seattle citizens such as Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen have rescued the theaters. Allen purchased and renovated Belltown’s Cinerama when AMC made the decision to close the theater.
The Neptune Theater in the University District is another example of a movie theater that was shut down as the digital boom took hold and movie goers stayed home.
Seattle Theater Group rescued the theater, which would have been demolished and turned into a light rail station.
It is now a performing arts venue in the same vein as STG’s Paramount and Moore Theaters.
Because of Seattle’s bighearted film enthusiasts who support historic theaters in the area, it is still possible to go with your friends on a rainy Saturday afternoon to a warm local theater, with the aroma of freshly popped popcorn in the air and a bar of candy in hand, feeling as if it were 1926.
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