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Finally! Napa's New Movie Theater Opens

Napa's new movie theater is here.

 

For years Napa Valley residents that enjoy going to the movies have been groaning about the Cinedome movie theater. I'm one of them. Sure it was a great place to watch movies decades ago but things have changed. Over the years as newer theaters in the surrounding area have updated to stadium seating, larger screens, and even the IMAX treatment, the old Cinedome languished.

I won't pretend to understand the financial situation, or reasons why the Cinedome never got a refresh and maybe in the end it doesn't matter. With the new Cinemark theater located at the corner of Gasser and Imola I'm thrilled and also a bit sad as well.

Like any other local, I remember things that once were, and are no longer. I have great memories as a kid going to the Cinedome theater. More times than I can count I remember my Mom taking me and my sister for night out to the dome. I even remember my Mom parking by that parking ticket dispenser while I would jump out and drop some quarters in it. Anybody else remember that? My Mother is no longer with us, but it's one of many memories I will carry with me always.

By the late 90s, the old theater was getting a little long in the tooth. And I know how these things shake out. With the new, the old will end quickly, like a predator's bite to the neck. How else can it turn out? Well enough of that, I should move on to the new movie theater in Napa before I reminisce about watching Star Wars at the old drive-in movie theater.

Time for something new

Spring/summer 2011 is when I first remember seeing the ground being prepared for the new movie theater along with the announcement for a spring 2012 opening. For months, nothing was happening and it seemed like that target date was really just wishful thinking. It was, because the date was pushed, and tomorrow Friday Nov 9th 2012 is the first official day that the theater is open to the public.

On Wednesday Nov 7th at 6PM, the theater had a VIP/invitation only night. It felt like a night to introduce the new theater and also a chance to test out the landing gear as it were. I arrived a couple of hours early not only to get a few photographs of the new joint but to get the all the details of the theater. So I will share all of that with all you. For the more technically inclined cinephiles stick around, I've got those details too.

Outside

Pulling into the parking lot, I knew right away that it's 2012 and not 1988. In the parking lot, there are parking spaces just for clean air vehicles, and charging stations for electric vehicles. So I'll get right to it, because you can't miss the giant sign, there is no IMAX to be found here. But it's not all bad news, this theater features Cinemark's new NextGen philosophy a blending of cutting edge state of the art sound and vision, and the latest in amenities. This particular theater is also a Cinemark XD type, featuring one flagship Extreme Digital Cinema auditorium.

A little tour

Upon arrival I met Cinemark's Marketing Director Bryan Jeffries and he kindly gave me a quick tour and answered every question I had despite the fact that he was surrounded by a flurry of activity. The clock was ticking, and I could feel the tension around me. So the usual details, the new theater features 2,000 total seats and 12 screens all featuring wall to wall screens. As I entered the flagship auditorium, Bryan informed me that it contained 300 seats and the new Dolby Atmos sound system (more on that later) with JBL providing the speakers.

Bryan also took me to the smallest theater a tiny 80 seat auditorium. I've been to many like this because I enjoy independent and low budget films, and theaters that support those films will inevitably throw light for these features in the small rooms. What impressed me is that the same NextGen style seating found in the biggest auditorium is found here as well. Even better, despite the small room size, the screen takes up nearly every inch of the 4th wall as possible (aspect ratios prevent any theater from using all the wall space).

As I walked around I started to notice the little things. In the Xtreme XD auditorium, anyone sitting in the very front row won't be straining their necks. The reason? The screen comes down, nearly all the way to the floor. Near the middle of the seating, a walkway cuts through and there are three seats missing leaving perfect little knolls or vantage points for wheelchair users. The LED lighting is more thoughtfully placed to prevent tripping as well.

I also noticed that the seats and rows are numbered. This would allow specific seats to be sold for special events. Another big difference here, the fabric seats are gone. No more seats soaked in soda (hopefully it's soda right?) any funny business can be wiped away in seconds. The seats are very ergonomic, and nicely padded. The spacing between rows isn't too tight so you won't be getting so unintentionally intimate with every stranger if you get up to use the restroom.

After walking into a few different auditoriums, I made my way to the concessions area. For the opening night various Hors d’Oeuvres would be served outside. Once inside only refreshments and popcorn were available. I did notice the wine bar, but that would not be available until the first official opening day. By 5:30pm a large crowd had gathered outside making quick work of snacks, sticking close to outdoor heaters.

Showtime

By 6PM people were flowing inside to be greeted by a huge open space and high ceilings. Guests mingled, ate popcorn and explored the new theater. At 7PM all twelve screens would be showing a different movie. Movies ranged from the new-ish Taken 2 to recent blockbusters like The Avengers and The Amazing Spider-Man and a small budget movie The Perks Of Being a Wallflower. My only real goal was to watch whatever was being shown on the flagship screen for the purpose of sharing my thoughts.

Technical details only for the hard core

I'm not your usual moviegoer, I'm a very picky nerd. I understand the technology, the jargon, and you can't fool me. The presentation and delivery is either impressive or it isn't. After asking the usual questions, I got down to the nitty-gritty and I'm lucky that Bryan Jeffries didn't give me the blank look I usually get when I ask the kinds of questions that I do.

Standing in the flagship auditorium, I asked Bryan if they were using 4K projectors. He answered yes, and my mistake was not making it clear if every auditorium was 4K. Either way, on the smaller screens it's not as critical and 2K are just fine. The Cameo theater in St. Helena has a wonderful 2K DLP projector using Dolby 3D technology, here Cinemark uses RealD 3D technology.

I asked if 2D movies would be shown in the XD auditorium, and Mr. Jeffries stated there would be 2D and 3D movies, both tickets would be a premium over the other smaller screens. When pressed about pricing, there was some hesitation, I'm not sure if he was genuinely drawing a blank or simply uncomfortable with the question. I asked if XD tickets were more or less than an IMAX ticket. His response was that the ticket prices would be in line with an IMAX ticket price.

I continued to press Bryan about the projectors, he told me that Sony (amongst others) were passed over in favor of Barco DLP projectors not only for their claim of delivering the brightest image (crucial for 3D movies with light robbing glasses) but for their ability to more easily scale their frame rate.

As if 3D, IMAX, XD and Dolby weren't enough to keep straight, you've got more technology coming your way, and that's HFR or high frame rate films. For many, many decades 24 frames per second has been and continues to be the way movies are presented. To reduce flicker a digital projector can flash the same frame multiple times like triple for 72 fps, or an odd number like 60 using a pull down method. But in the end, there are only 24 real, actual frames being shown.

Back before most people reading this were even born, it was actually 48, but to save costs, and valuable film stock, 24 was chosen because it was the minimum required to give the proper illusion movement. But 24fps has always had problems, the main one being movement that's not crisp and any movement by any object or person results in their image being blurred, the result of a shutter speed of only 1/50th of a second. That's why fight scenes can turn to a blurry mess. To combat this, a director can choose a higher shutter speed, but the result can be a choppy look. But with digital coming in and film going out, directors and studios are no longer limited to film's constraints.

The first major motion picture to be filmed at a higher frame rate is the forthcoming Hobbit movie from director Peter Jackson shot on Red cameras at 48fps. Not all theaters have the ability to vary their frame rate, so they will present at 24fps . According to Mr. Jeffries, the Barco projectors can and will present the new Hobbit movie at 48fps.

In case you were wondering what it looks like, just take a look at a new 120hz LCD TV. It can have a strange camcorder, too smooth look. Younger people like it, I hate it. It's called the "soap opera effect" because it gives major motion pictures a live video look. But there's key difference here. A TV at home is faking the whole thing. Using software and hardware it's creating frames that never existed and inserting them in between the real frames. All this is based on the motion of the real frames. It's not perfect and there are image artifacts. My TV features this tech, and I have it off at all times.

In theaters, HFR films will be the real deal. Digging deeper, it appears that the Barco projector will show the 48fps at 96hz or showing each frame twice to eliminate any chance of visible flicker. So let's talk about the image quality.

Visuals

I don't know for certain that Barco makes the brightest projectors, but even if they were stretching the truth, Barco has nothing to worry about. I viewed The Amazing Spider-Man in the XD room in 3D (RealD) and even with the tint of the polarized 3D glasses, the image was very bright, crisp and colorful. The color was dialed in just right, the blacks were good, but not inky, but that's a limitation of DLP technology. Overall the image quality is stunning, and about as good as it gets. I looked carefully for ghosting, I studied the corners for any signs of softness, no lens flare to be found, nothing.

The Sound

The new XD auditorium features Dolby Atmos (short for atmosphere) sound system. Going way beyond the 7.1 sound in the rest of the Cinemark auditoriums, this is very new. The first soundtrack mixed for Dolby Atmos was the Pixar film Brave. While Dolby Labs expects a big rollout of Atmos in 2013 there are only a handful of Atmos equipped theaters, and one of them is now in Napa. The movie I saw did not feature the Atmos soundtrack. Featuring speakers not just all around you, but in the ceiling as well, the sounds of a helicopter or rain will bring a whole new experience.

While the sound was truly top notch, it was missing the deep down, rock bottom sounds I've heard in an IMAX theater. Having only seen one film in the new XD room, I can't say their subwoofers are lacking, it could have been the soundtrack. Star Trek 2009 and Avatar with IMAX sound went low, more the kind you feel in your gut rather than hear, truly stunning. I didn't hear anything like that with only this one viewing.

Bottom line time to compare

This new theater beats out anything in Sonoma county, and soundly beats out the 14 screen theater in Vallejo. After that, many Napa Valley residents will head out to the Edwards theater in Fairfield. With the screens covering nearly every inch in the Napa theater, I'd still say Napa wins. Compared to the LieMax (fake IMAX) in Fairfield, I would say it's a close call to the XD. The Fairfield auditorium is larger (if memory serves me) and the sound wins. But the image in the XD room is brighter, makes use of more of that fourth wall, and the seats are better. Maybe it's a wash.

This new theater is great but it still doesn't beat the real IMAX. There are only two real ones in northern California. One is located in Dublin, the other is at the Metreon in SF. Those screens are huge on another level with stunning sound, the kind that reminds you of the Hulk punching a tank.  Figure in gas, time, bridge toll and the hassle of parking in SF, IMAX is only for really big tentpole films like Avatar. Otherwise Napa now has the best theater in the area.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Tony Flores November 09, 2012 at 11:09 AM
Just got this little bit of info. Friday, November 9th and Saturday, November 10th - The first 50 customers each day who purchase a ticket at the box office will receive a free Century Napa Valley Swag Bag. Limit 2 bags per customer.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) November 09, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Great post and photos, Tony! Thanks! (I'm glad they don't call it "schwag," which is incorrect. Swag is an old word repurposed - some say it now stands for Stuff We All Get.)
Nicholas Claymore Watter November 09, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Were the employees at the old cinedome location able to keep their jobs? I hope so.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) November 09, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Yes, according to the management folks who gave me the tour of the new place, everyone moves over there today.
Scott Yeager November 10, 2012 at 04:55 PM
It will be interesting to see what 48fps looks like when it is finally rolled out in theaters. http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/peter-jackson-the-hobbit-cinemacon-317755
Scott Yeager November 10, 2012 at 05:07 PM
People get very caught up in movies looking bright and "clean" and the movie studios have made some blu-ray movies that were DNRed way too much. Casablanca and 99% of the movies ever made were never meant to be seen in such high resolution. It's like the difference in seeing a movie with a magnifying glass or a microscope. If you look at one under a microscope you are going to see things you were never meant to see. Blu-ray is like looking at old movies under a microscope. http://hollywood-elsewhere.com/2012/09/remastered_film.php
Tina Morse November 10, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Thanks for such a detailed technical article. I now am even morse excited to see the new XD theater room. And just the theater in general.
Nicholas Claymore Watter November 11, 2012 at 03:07 AM
That's good to know, thanks.
Tony Flores November 11, 2012 at 03:53 AM
I understand what you mean about studios going too far with restorations or re-master jobs for blu ray. But I have to disagree with your feeling about these old movies, and that they were never intended to be seen in such high resolutions. These movies were shot on 35mm film, and that far exceeds the detail that people can see at home, which is currently 1080p, barely over 2 megapixels. While there is some disagreement over just how much resolution a digital sensor needs to match 35mm film, 24 megapixels is the number that pops up a lot, not even a 4K projector has enough pixels to cover that. Of course that's leaving out the whole digital vs. analog argument. My personal desire for a bright image is for two reasons. First throwing light at a very large screen requires a powerful light source, or the image will just appear too dim, and 3D movies have brightness issues, not just because of the light loss in the optics of the projector used for 3D, but the light lost with the 3D glasses themselves, otherwise I have no desire for the image to be ridiculously bright. As for the HFR movies, I haven't seen the real deal just yet. As for the fake stuff at home, I really dislike it. I wonder how the masses will react. Speaking with the marketing director, he told me of the early demos that he viewed himself not just for the Hobbit, but demos by James Cameron. He stated that the image did take him out of the movie initially, but that within minutes he became accustomed to it.
Tony Flores November 11, 2012 at 03:58 AM
I'm already seeing the facebook posts, lots of people are visiting the new theater, and people seem to be very happy. I've seen complaints of long wait times to pay for food, but that sounds like the first day or second day kinks that need to be worked out. I think everyone is really going to like the new place. The XD room is a premium, but there are lots of discounts for early showings, and on Mondays for seniors and Tuesdays for everyone else. It's also good knowing that all the employees made their way to the new location.
Scott Yeager November 11, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Having grown up watching 35mm films and seeing them in standard theaters of the day I can tell you that you are seeing more detail in a blu-ray of movies from the past than you saw in a theater at the time. As an example, I recently watched Jurassic Park on blu-ray and there were a couple of scenes where it was more obvious that you were seeing a set. Having seen the movie quite a few times, including in the theater when it originally came out, they popped out at me. The image of the blu-ray is sharper and you can see more detail. Part of it is I watch them on a larger screen with a projector than most people at home are watching them on. It wouldn't be as noticeable with a 50" plasma or LCD or even a 60". As for brightness, people buy more LCD TV's because they look brighter and "pop" more so people think they are better than plasma's which aren't as bright but have better contrast and black levels. That's what I meant about people liking brightness more. In a 3D movie they are always too dark an image besides there being the issue with you wearing the glasses in order to trick your brain into thinking it is seeing 3D which is why many people get headaches or feel a little weird during and after watching the movie. If the image doesn't seem bright enough while watching a regular 2D movie then it is either that the projector isn't bright enough for the size of the screen and throw distance, the bulb is towards the end of it's life, or the movie was shot that way.
Scott Yeager November 12, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Here is a study on 35mm film resolution. http://www.filmschoolonline.com/sample_lessons/sample_lesson_HD_vs_35mm.htm
Tony Flores November 14, 2012 at 11:13 AM
The Hobbit in HFR 3D starts showing on Dec 14th 2012. http://www.wired.com/underwire/2012/11/the-hobbit-format/
Scott Yeager November 14, 2012 at 02:22 PM
If you really can't wait to hear the full score for The Hobbit before seeing the movie in theaters you can listen to the whole thing online right now. http://www.empireonline.com/news/story.asp?NID=35757
Bob November 18, 2012 at 04:03 PM
What is the seating capacity of each theater... Starting with nimber 1 thorough 12? Great technical piece! I have my own state of the art production facility in Napa. www.cavmedia.com.
Tony Flores November 19, 2012 at 06:01 AM
I don't have all the information you seek. The XD room is 298 I believe, and the theater right next to it, #4 "NextGen" is about 243 or so, and it looks inside to be the same size as the XD room or nearly so.

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