Cineplex VIP Cinemas: Another money grabber, or the next evolution of date night?
As a movie reviewer, whether professional or amateur, public or private, sometimes you need to operate under the assumption that first impressions can be misleading and not the end all, be all of the true quality of the film you're watching. For example, the first time I watched Unforgiven, I didn't like it. I was younger then and didn't catch the power in its commentary on the ugliness of real life violence, or the beauty and subtlety in Eastwood's performance. Or the joy in seeing his 70-ish year old self still able to be the baddest mother f-er in mainstream cinema. Now it's one of my favorite films of all time.
The first time I saw Child's Play it scared the living daylights out of me, now it's quite cheesy and silly and its power to scare lost in the horror movie ruins created by the more revolutionary horror cinema of late like The Ring and Paranormal Activity.
Some of this taste change can be attributed to age, but that doesn't excuse the fact that movies, like life, change. Experiences and perceptions change. If you'll allow me a Hallmark moment, they change like the seasons.
With that in mind, it seemed unfair of me to accept and report on my first experience at Edmonton's new Cineplex VIP Cinemas as the definitive experience. Because if it was, I would tell you all to save your money and just stick to the regular joe screens.
The VIP experience Cineplex promises basically boils down to dinner and a movie, just, at the same time. They promise more comfy seating, more leg room, a dinner and drink menu to order off of and an 18+ show, regardless of the movies rating. Basically, if you have the cash and the babysitter, they want you to skip Earl's or Joey's beforehand and just come straight to the movie and get your food and booze there. Without the whining kids or chatting teens. Sounds pretty sweet. So how does it play out?
When the VIP cinema opened up down the street from us recently, my wife and I went on opening night to see what was what. Putting the horrendously bad movie aside (see my The Lucky One review), our first experience as VIP's was, as a whole, not so good.
When you get into the theatre the first thing that strikes you is how small it is. I understand that more leg room means less seating space, and with only adults allowed in, that cuts down on almost half of the movie going public, but the room is small to begin with. Maybe to replicate the feel of a movie studio private screening room, another attempt at making the customer feel like a big shot. The only problem with that is that a smaller room means a smaller screen and the screen does seem quite small in comparison with the regular rooms. The picture quality is no different, or the sound, as far as I could hear. The seats are only slightly bigger than the regular seats, but the extra leg room is fairly sizeable and might be the best part of the whole deal. If you have trouble sitting in one place for movie's over two hours long, as I do, having room to stretch is pretty essential. Each chair has a table that swings out and a menu behind the seat. The seats themselves are comfy to be sure, but not noticeably more than the seats in the normal rooms in the same theatre. There are, however, at least in the theatre we were in, a row of lazy boy style recliners in the very front, for those who want to lay back and look up. It's a nice option and those seat are noticeably bigger and comfier than the regular ones.
On our first visit, once we got seated and started perusing the menu, things felt a little chaotic. There were waiters and waitresses running around and people getting seated and it look a long time before someone finally took our order. In fact, my wife had to track someone down and let them know we hadn't been served yet because the movie was about to start and they have a rule that you have to have your order in by the fourth preview so that all the food and drinks are out by the time the show starts. That didn't happen, there were people being waited on well into the beginning of the picture. My wife and I ordered some food and a drink. The food menu isn't very extensive, about the size of those seasonal inserts you find in the regular menu at a restaurant, but there a few good looking choices on it. The food we did order was great, my wife's daiquiri was one of the best drinks she's ever had, but I ordered a Guinness only to have someone come by fifteen minutes later and inform me they didn't have any Guinness, even though it was on the menu. Okay, I'll have a Stella then. The Stella came, it wasn't cold and the glass was only two thirds full. Someone obviously didn't know how to pour. This might sound like nitpicking, but I paid $7 for the thing, it'd be nice if the glass was full.
By the time all the food and drink were out the first half hour of the movie had gone by. I didn't mind because The Lucky One is a piece of garbage, but if it had been a good movie, a movie I was enjoying even a little, having people awkwardly ducking down in front of me here and there would have been annoying. Finally everything calmed down and I was able to sit back and enjoy hating the movie.
Our second movie at the VIP wasn't much better, but the experience was. We were served as soon as we sat down. Our food came out right away. I ordered a Guinness again and got it this time, the beautiful black liquid filled to the rim. The food was as good as before and by the time the movie started everyone had been seated and served.
This is why I went back. You go anywhere on opening day, and you have to have a certain level of patience and grace as people work at figuring things out. Go back a couple weeks later and they should have their act together. And they did. It was a much better, much more VIP feeling experience.
So what's the cost and is it worth it? Well, a ticket to the VIP show is $20. That includes nothing but the movie and the legroom. The drinks are anywhere from $5 to $12, depending on what your poison is. The import beer all around the $7 mark. The food is around $10-$15. And yes you can just get popcorn and pop, or anything they serve at the concession stand out front. So for a date night with dinner and drink you're looking at roughly $75. If you share or don't eat or drink, well, you can figure out the math. Is that worth it? I guess it depends on whether you can afford it and whether it means that much to you to eat and drink at the movies. Given that the screen is smaller and the seats aren't much more comfortable, I wouldn't say it's worth the extra coin just for the movie ticket. It is cool to be at the theatre and be slurping down a Guinness or chowing on a chicken wrap and sweet potato fries, but it's no Moxie's. Or Earl's. Or Joey's. There is a really nice lounge area outside the screening rooms but still inside the VIP area, where you can sit at a table or the bar and eat and drink up before you go in and see the movie. You can also take the food and drinks you order out there into the screening room with you.
So I guess the bottom line is: For the average joe, it's an every once in a while thing.
Unless you're rich and would rather go to one place than two or three. Then it's probably an every time you see a movie thing.