This was supposed to be a review of the new Pixar/Disney feature Brave. I’d missed the press screenings here in Portland, but that was fine — we have a new theater in the area with the fancy-schmancy 28-channel Dolby Atmos sound system (one of 14 in the country), so I figured I’d get a chance to enjoy both. A fine plan, but one that really didn’t pan out.
Let me start with this: I really, really admire Cinetopia. Starting with the first complex in Vancouver (WA) and continuing with the Beaverton location, they offer “living room theaters” featuring big, comfy recliners and ottomans, ginormous “grand auditoriums” with massive screens and top-of-the-line sound systems, and they’re as good as theaters get. The concession stand offers fresh baked goods, and there’s a butter bar so you can choose from a variety of flavors for your popcorn. They have restaurants (called Vinotopia) that serve a staggering number of excellent wines by the glass, and there’s service in the living room theaters at your seat, should you choose to order from the menu. On weekends, they offer live music before shows.
As of this writing, tickets are priced similarly to most chains, although prices for what they call the “Movie Parlor Experience” are outlandish at $18.50. The experience is described thusly: 21+ age requirement, beer & wine available, ultra luxurious seating, unique suite-level amenities, in-theater restaurant service available, Digital 7.1 sound, super HD 30 foot screen with an additional 18 LED screens creating an immersive movie environment., All of which sounds lovely but … $18.50? Per ticket? Before I’ve even ordered a beer?
A few months ago, Cinetopia offered up one of the most effective Groupon campaigns I’ve seen — a deal offering two movie tickets and a large popcorn at their Beaverton location for $17. The tickets were good in any of the auditoriums, and when you used the Groupon you received a coupon for another free popcorn or beverage on your next visit. But what really made the promotion clever was that, on the handout with the coupon, Cinetopia offered a price comparison between their theaters and Regal Cinemas, showing that their prices were the same or lower than Regal, for a much, much better cinema-going experience. It was a smart bit of marketing, given that the perception of Cinetopia is that it’s a lot more expensive than going to your local megaplex.
So yes, I’m a fan. The Beaverton Progress Ridge location is a gorgeous theater, free-standing like the original Vancouver Cinetopia, although it is part of a small upscale shopping center. The parking is excellent. You walk in past bubbling fountains, and there’s comfy seating just inside, if you need to wait for someone. Plus, it’s just a few minutes from my home in SW Portland. The place is a win all the way around.
Which brings us to the grand opening of their new location at the Vancouver/Westfield Mall. As mentioned before, it’s one of the first theaters in the country to install the super-deluxe new Dolby Atmos sound system. 128 channels, speakers installed throughout the theater, including in the ceiling! And they’re premiering it with Brave, which I really wanted to see! So … off to the Vancouver Mall, 15 miles away.
The first problem arose when we got to the mall and had no idea where the damn theater was actually situated. Cinetopia’s website lists the address as 8500 NE Vancouver Mall Drive, but doesn’t specify whether it’s a free-standing building or within the mall itself. A website called movietickets.com lists the address as 8700, not 8500, and says that the theater’s outside the mall in the northeast corner of the parking lot. There’s no signage anywhere outside the mall to direct people to the theater, and we eventually found it by a) deciding that the huge, ugly blocky addition on the northeast chunk of the mall where the Mervyn’s used to be was probably the place, then B) going inside the mall and asking someone where the theater was. Again: No signage on the outside of the building.
Parking was terrible, and this was early afternoon on a weekday. Since the entrance to Cinetopia is, yes, inside the mall, there’s no parking just for the theater. Plus, the closest mall entrance is the one right next to the stop for all the city buses, so parking’s limited even further. Entering the mall, you’re on the upper level, and we were told that the theater as located on the lower level. No, there’s no escalator anywhere around.
Side note of generalized bitching: As you may or may not know, I have a severely crippled-up arthritic knee. This is one reason I don’t go to malls. I’m simply not capable of long treks down endless linoleum pathways. Also, and you probably don’t know this, malls give me mild panic attacks. Too many people, too many weird smells and things to look at and just too much crap for my brain to process, plus the pain of endless walking, plus the general annoyance of being surrounded by other humans. So the absolute worst place to put a movie theater — for me, anyway — is inside a goddamned mall.
Anyway. We walked through the mall. I hyperventilated a bit, then we found the place by wandering in the general direction of the giant, ugly box that we’d seen attached to the outside of the mall. The entrance was on the upper level, where we were, not the lower level, like the mall employee said. We got in line to buy tickets.
I was prepared to be patient, because this was the second showing on their first day of business. Opening days are always buggy, and problems pop up. So, hey. I can roll. But still — only one person manning the ticket window? And then we asked for two tickets, and she only rang us up for one. Then, rather than just sell us a second ticket, we had to wait while she called a manager, canceled out the debit card order, and then sold us a pair of tickets. The manager responded to the problem, by the way, by yelling at the ticket-seller, “You did NOT just tell me that!”
Oh, and those two tickets were $30. And because of all the delays, it was now about two minutes before the movie was about to start. At this point, I was still willing to suck it up, pay too much for movie tickets, and experience this new-fangled sound system and see the new Pixar movie. We were having this adventure, even if it wasn’t fun anymore, dammit.
Entering Cinetopia, there’s a gift shop on the left, hawking Avengers T-shirts and other merchandise. Tacky, but hey, we’re in a mall. Feeling the walk in my bad knee, I noticed there was nowhere to sit, nowhere to wait for a friend or gather yourself together unless you went into the Beertopia restaurant (yes, the other locations are called Vinotopia. They seem to realize that Vancouver Mall patrons are more likely to drink a beer than a fine wine, which makes sense. But with the other two locations proudly pimping their extensive wine lists, they might as well have just called this one Joe Six-Pack’s Cheap-ass Swill Factory.)
When we handed our tickets to the ticket-taker, she smiled brightly and said, “This is for Theater Four. It’s downstairs.”
ME: Okay. How do we get there?
TICKET CHICK: You have to go downstairs.
ME: (patiently) This is opening day. No one knows where anything is. How. Do. I. Get. There.
TICKET CHICK: Oh, just go back out those doors and take the elevator down.
ME: So there’s two entrances? On two levels?
TICKET CHICK: Yes. These are the living room theaters and the parlor theaters up here. The grand auditoriums are downstairs.
ME: I have to go back out into the mall, and take an elevator down?
TICKET CHICK: (Huge smile) Yes!
ME: (to Patrick) That’s it. I’m getting our money back.
And yeah, that was it. I’m no diva. I’m incredibly patient, non-confrontational, and able to take retail hassles in stride, which I know doesn’t sound at all like me, but trust me, it’s true. I’ve worked retail. Hell, I worked at Starbucks. I have sympathy. This was just one thing too many. There was no way I was going to give them my money, and no way I could relax and enjoy the movie even if I did. I was done.
I want to reiterate that all my previous experiences with Cinetopia have been great. But visiting this new location, even without seeing the damn movie, it looks like they’ve made a lot of bad, bad choices. The mall location itself, to start with — Vancouver Mall isn’t a fancy, upscale mall with Kate Spade and Bose and The Body Shop and L’Occitane. Vancouver Mall is a lower-to-middle working-class mall, a Panda Express/Hot Topic/JC Penney mall. The owners of the mall may believe that having the theater entrance inside the mall itself will increase foot traffic and sales, but it’s doubtful that it’ll be significant — the majority of the Vancouver denizens shopping at Old Navy and Payless aren’t the type to spend that kind of money for a movie ticket, and the Cinetopia patrons are going to find it inconvenient that they have to be bombarded with Yankee Candle smells and people in ill-fitting sweatpants on their way to what’s supposed to be a luxe theater experience.
And while the two-level thing works for Cinetopia’s staff (restaurant and theaters that get restaurant service on one level, grand auditoriums with concession stands on another) it’s definitely not convenient for customers. See also: No signage on the outside of the mall to tell people where to enter to get to the theater. See also: Not making it clear at the ticket counter that there are two levels/two ticket booths/two entrances. See also: Making your customers take an elevator outside, in the mall, to get down to your other level.
For the first time, it looks like Cinetopia may have made a serious, serious misstep. I have no doubt that, once inside, the theaters themselves are beautifully appointed, comfortable, and provide a state-of-the-art viewing experience. Unfortunately, what you have to go through to get to that point is ridiculous.
By the way, the Roseway Theater has an amazing sound system, is super comfy, has reasonably priced concessions, and is showing Brave for $9. I believe I’ll be giving them my money on Saturday.