Universal invited me and a few other reporters to tour the theaters this morning, guided by Fernando Pa, Senior Director, Design and Planning of Universal Creative, which oversaw the redesign. The project has changed completely the look and feel of the theaters, which now feature reclining leather seats throughout.
"We wanted to make the guest feel like a director, screening a movie," Pa explained, pointing out the "black box" look of the theaters. "Everything should be about what's on the screen, with no distractions around you."
To show us how the theaters put those images up on its screens, Pa took us into a couple of the projection rooms, to see the theaters' digital 4K Christie RGB Laser projectors in action.
The switch to larger, leather seats means that the theaters no longer offers as many seats as they did before. The largest non-IMAX theater seats just 176 patrons, but the reduction in quantity allows a definite upgrade in quality, with far more comfortable seats and an improvement in bottom-level sight lines. (Long-time patrons of the CityWalk theaters should note that the reduced capacity will make it more important than ever to buy tickets in advance for high-demand showings.)
But it's outside the screening rooms where Universal makes its claim for LA-area moviegoers.
If you didn't buy your ticket online, ticket sales now are handled inside ("concierge style," as they say), with no glass window between you and your cashier. And with all reserved seating, there's no rush to get to your theater to claim the best seats. Even though that's become standard at many local theaters, fans still always seem end up crowding narrow aisles around theater doors at other theater complexes, waiting to get into their showing.
At the CityWalk theaters, Universal instead provides open, comfortable seating lounges for patrons to wait for their show. Universal's also brought in costumes and props from current films for display, but instead leaving them in the lobby, they are placed throughout the lounges, further helping to encourage the crowd to spread around the facility.
Concessions are handled through AMC's "food court" style, without individual serving lines. A 21-and-up "Director's Lounge" cocktail bar dominates the upper floor, where moviegoers can order drinks before or after their show.
I love how Universal subtly calls back to its production logo with the chandelier and mural in the lounge, which recreate the logo's "sunburst" moment, without ever using the words "Universal." Subliminal branding, FTW.
But what about the cost? A quick check of ticket prices for tonight's showings found seats going for $17.75 for adults, compared with $15.50 a ticket for the Pacific Theaters at the nearby Americana at Brand in Glendale. That's a $2.25 increase for better seats, more comfortable lobby, and what should be a better visual experience, too. You'd pay the same $17.75 for seats at the Arclight Hollywood, and those offer narrower cloth seats that don't recline. (But there's none of AMC's, uh, "pre-show" there, so that's your trade-off. Yet if you just hang out in the lounge until the commercials are over at CityWalk, you're back ahead.)
CityWalk's theaters offer a $5 parking rebate on Universal's $10 after-5pm parking rate, and a $15 rebate on its before-5pm $20 general parking, making the final parking charge to see a movie $5 either way.
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