TESTING TUCSON'S SCREEN SCENE

By Mark Vitale

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Movies have become an integral part of American culture in just a century. Forget the fancy restaurants and miniature golf ─movie theaters are the number one destination for a date in all of America.

According to Tom Peterson of the Arizona Historical Society, the movie theater has had a long and rich history that can be traced back over a hundred years.

"In 1894 the first Kinetoscope Parlor opened in New York City. The Kinetoscope was a little cabinet invented by Thomas Edison. There was room inside the cabinet for up to 50 feet of film that revolved around spools. A person would look through a slit in the side of the thing to watch the movie," Peterson said.

The Kinetoscope Parlor contained two rows of coin-operated kinetoscopes and proved to be immensely popular, but Edison was convinced that the motion picture was just a passing fad and did not develop his invention further at the time.

"Movies in the earlier part of this century were nothing like the films of today," Peterson said. "Films back then were, of course, silent ─ although there was usually a pianist accompanying the film. Another big difference was that movies did not follow much of a storyline. Early movie makers just went out and filmed boxers, waterfalls, trains, ocean waves, birds, people ─ just about anything that moved. This was such a new and fresh concept that people were just thrilled by the novelty of it all."

As production costs of "hot" films such as "Jurassic Park" and the upcoming "Batman Forever" continue to rise, this is reflected in increasingly expensive ticket prices. And expensive tickets are causing a sharp drop in attendance.

A recent study conducted by Stanford University showed that in the late 1940s, 90 million people attended at least one movie per week, while in the late 1980s only 20 million people saw at least one movie per week. The study concluded that the major factors in this drop were time demands and high ticket prices.

UA students' behavior mirrors this trend. Bob Drake, a creative writing sophomore, said, "I hardly ever go to a movie until it goes to a dollar theater. I don't see the point of paying seven bucks for a piece of celluloid trash that I can pay a buck for in a month or two."

Carrie Kelley, an undeclared freshman, said "I hardly go to the movies because I think that Tucson theaters suck. They're either dingy and small, or moderately-sized and expensive ─ who has seven bucks for a stupid movie?"

So, after exploring the history of the movie theater, and listening to a gripe or two about ticket prices, this Wildcat reporter visited several local movie theaters to see what they were like. The itinerary included cinemas ranging from modern multiplexes to smaller movie houses.

CINEPLEX ODEON CATALINA CINEMAS

This theater used to be a single-screen movie house until the California-based Cineplex Odeon bought it and converted it into a modern theater with six screens.

This theater is interesting because due to space limitations, the theaters were built on multiple levels. The newest, most popular films are shown on the top theaters, while the films that are about to leave are in the basement.

This cinema also uses only Dolby stereo for the films, which is surprising since it is a full-priced theater. Hey, when you pay a little more, you expect a little more, like THX or the Digital Stereo Experience (DTS), right?

DE ANZA DRIVE-IN THEATERS

A drive in movie theater invokes images of dating in the 1950s, which is a nice nostalgic feeling. However, there are also some advantages to those who are interested in watching the movies.

For one thing, the screens are very big. Anyone who has driven out to the airport by way of Alvernon has seen those monolithic things. In life, bigger is not necessarily better, but for movie screens this doesn't hold true ─ if one has never seen an Imax movie, where the screen is seven stories tall, then they have not lived.

However, the projection on these screens can be fuzzy and somewhat hard to see at times.

GALLAGHER THEATER

The UA's own movie theater really doesn't have all that much to attract students with access to transportation. But for students stuck on campus, Gallagher Theater offers relatively current movies at somewhat cheap rates.

The theater shows promotional trailers before movies, which is nice. And thankfully, the boring theater promotional trailers that are shown at big theater chains aren't shown.

What really makes going to

Gallagher Theater an experience is the audience. If an audience reacts well to a film, the viewing experience is usually more enjoyable.

THE LOFT

Long-term Tucsonans may fondly remember this theater before it moved down Speedway, but the new place is definitely more fun to go to.

One of the few cinemas that has only two screens to its name, the Loft specializes in independent and foreign films, as well as the ever-popular "Rocky Horror Picture Show."

The films shown at the Loft aren't shown anywhere else in town, so obviously the owners don't feel like spending any money on building maintenance. The parking lot looks like it has been hit by a meteor shower. And the inside of the building looks as bad, or worse than, the interior of the Student Union.

Petty complaints aside, the Loft is the place to be for thoughtful film-lovers.

CENTURY GATEWAY 12 THEATERS

With twelve screens under one roof, Lucasfilm's THX stereo and DTS, soft, cushy seats that (supposedly) recline to your comfort, and a large, clean lobby, this theater is definitely the most modern of all the Tucson theaters. However, for some reason, this is probably the least enjoyable theater of them all.

Century Gateway has one of the stupidest, corniest theater promotions out of all the theaters. Audiences are forced to sit through a computer-animated sequence depicting a movie ticket flying through the lobby fawning over all the wonderful conveniences that the theater offers while Muzak with a beat pounds away.

Maybe this criticism sounds a bit obsessive to some, but live through it and decide for yourself.

In this age of the $7 movie tickets, film-lovers must also be good consumers. Hopefully, this article has provided information to help in the economic evaluation of Tucson's number one entertainment venue, the local theater. And remember, buyer beware.

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