Jun 19, 2008 09:15 AM EST

Movie Piracy? Ha! Just ask Entertainment Weekly's Top Theater

 Movie Piracy? Ha! Just ask Entertainment Weekly's Top Theater
You've probably seen the headlines...Movie revenues down due to piracy...is that what is really happening out there?

According to boxofficemojo.com, box office receipts stagnated in 2002 and 2003, and then hit a record of $9.418 billion in 2004. 2005 saw a substantial drop to $8.840 billion, the first drop in box office receipts since 1991. 2006 couldn't even get back to 2004 numbers, finishing at $9.209 billion. So when you factor in that prices at the movie theatres are continuing to rise, it can mean only one thing - less people are going to the movies.

The MPAA would like you to believe it is because of internet piracy, so people would rather watch a bootleg low quality camcorder copy of a movie instead of seeing it in person in high quality, and now, in many theatres, digitally. Perhaps for a few, but I don't think that is the case. The majority of the problem lies with the quality of the movies that being released. But is something else at play?

The studios are releasing DVDs and now Blu-Ray quicker than ever before. I remember the time when Disney would release an animated picture in the spring - you wouldn't see it on video until at least the following spring. Now, there is apparently pressure on the studios to release spring and summer blockbusters on video by the same Christmas in order to cash in on the holiday sales. So I'm sure there is a huge contingent of movie viewers who would rather wait on the release of the DVD/Blu-Ray and watch the movie in the comfort of their own home, or maybe their own "home theatre". But could something else be driving the moviegoers away?

For all purposes, the movie theatre "experience" hasn't changed that much in a very long time. While technology has changed, from THX/Dolby Digital/DTS to DLP screens; specialty coffee drinks now served at the snack stand, and "stadium" style seating. Those are just minor changes. Improvements to the existing formula. These improvements have not helped the major theatre chains, most of which have consolidated into two - one chain including the former Edwards Cinema chain, which was forced to file bankruptcy not too long ago. What if the formula needs to be changed to prevent the others from having to do the same?

Enter the Alamo Drafthouse. Ten years ago, in Austin, Texas, the Alamo Drafthouse was born. Why are they different? What made this theatre chain Entertainment Weekly's Top Movie Theater in 2005? It's actually quite simple.

Dinner and a movie. Combined.

"The majority of the problem lies with the quality of the movies that being released. But is something else at play?"

The theaters at the Alamo Drafthouse allow for a smaller number of theatergoers to be admitted. The reason? To put in a bar-like table that runs most of the way across a row in front of each seat, and a space for waiters to go between the table and the next row of seats in order to deliver food and drinks. Which is the other item - the Alamo decided that they would not be a "family friendly" establishment. Children under 6 are not allowed at all unless it is a Children's matinee on a weekend, or the first showing of every movie on Tuesdays (they call it "Baby Day") The Drafthouse has a beer and wine bar, with a large selection of both regional microbrews and major bottles, and a generous selection of sandwiches, pizzas, salads, pasta, desserts and appetizers. Oh yeah, you can get popcorn too. Their menu is themed around the movies, from "Porky's Pepperoni Pizza" to the "Royale with Cheese burger". Each theater location has its own chef, which allows them to something even more unique: offer a whole themed "event".

Imagine watching Ratatouille on the big screen, while dining on Ratatouille and drinking Chardonnay (but no, sorry, no Remy Chardonnay), or watching Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End while eating an appetizer of Roti de Mar (roti filled with lobster, shrimp and crab in curry with mango churney). The best thing - when they have the special "feasts" - the ticket price (the Simpsons movie feast ticket is running at $55) includes the entire meal, including wine pairing.

You can order (yes, even during the movie!) as much as you like until about 30 mins before the movie is over, at which time the waiter will put out the tab for you to pay before you leave. In order to allow you to be able to eat in peace before the movie, they open the theatre up 45 minutes before showtime.

Some of the little things that makes the Alamo great includes their sense of humor. For example, they show the Star Wars-themed no-cell phone "PSA" that runs before the movie. They have a new character in the Death Star conference room that gets a call during the meeting about some female prisoner in cellblock 1138, that is, until Darth Vader uses force choke to stop the call. You really have to see it. The other is the usual "safety" video telling you where the exits of the theater are in the style of an aircraft safety video. Your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device in the event of a water landing (with a drawing of the theater in a flood). Or the ending "In the event of a zombie breakout, your servers have been instructed to hand out blunt objects to use as weapons. Please remember that you have to destroy the brain in order to protect yourself from the undead."

In addition to these PSAs before the movie, they customize the preshow to the movie that you going to see. For "Transformers", they were showing clips of the original animated TV show. For "Knocked Up", they were showing Seth Rogen clips from his previous movies.

So the Alamo Drafthouse is a place where you can get dinner and a movie, without having to leave one place. But the local & traditional Hollywood feel that they maintain has attracted Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to open Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez's Devastation Studios is centered in Austin, in addition, several sections of Grindhouse were filmed on location in Austin), to having special screenings of movies with the some of the stars attending, like Patton Oswalt and Janeane Garafolo for Ratatouille. All and all this is the kind of innovation and change to the traditional movie theatre "formula" that is necessary to keep the movie going public..well…going to the movies!

-- Roger Longenbach
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