Monday, May 26, 2008

Friday Night At The Movies

The massive facade of the Warren Theatre in Moore, OK is impressive. It can easily be seen from I-35 and proclaims itself proudly, especially at night when it is lit up with purple and green neon. As you step inside, you are treated to a richly colored expanse of wood, marble, neon and other decorative elements. It is the first clue that this will not be a regular movie experience.

The next clue you'll get is the staff uniforms. I'm not talking same-color shirts and khaki slacks, here. I'm talking full-on nostalgic usher uniforms complete with green (or white) jackets with brass buttons and shoulder boards paired with black slacks adorned with a satin strip along the outer seam and white gloves. There are a couple variations from this for staff at the concession counters or the bar (yes, there's a bar but I'll get to that later) but fancy jacket and formal slacks is the uniform of the day.

For us, though, this night was going to be extra special. My MIL had purchased a pair of tickets for us to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as an anniversary gift. What's so special about movie tickets, I hear you ask. What's so special is they were balcony seats. Reserved balcony seats.

We crossed the lobby to the base of the stairway where a young gentleman was stationed to assist patrons (and probably act as a gatekeeper). We asked him about the upstairs arrangements: In addition to balcony seating, there is also a lounge where you can order a meal or a drink from the full service bar. Sorry, kiddos, you have to be 21 or older to enjoy the balcony. We also asked him about the location of the elevator. He was very clear in his instructions, very friendly and courteous, and surprisingly articulate. I say surprisingly because he looked to be about 17 and I sometimes have difficulty finding those qualities in people of that age group. We thanked him and moved on.

We hadn't had dinner yet so we went into the diner. Yep, there's a full-service diner on the premises. It serves everything from appetizers and salads to sandwiches and pasta. We knew we would be able to have service at our seats (one of the perks of the balcony) but wanted to make sure we didn't need to place an order downstairs before proceeding to the balcony. We told the cashier we had balcony seats and asked if we needed to do anything special. She told us, "Oh no, if you have balcony seats you have a waiter who will get you anything you want." Her tone was almost as if to add that if we had paid for balcony seating, we were royalty for the evening and didn't need to mix with the crowd. Cool.

We took the elevator to the second level where we were met and welcomed by no less than four people. We showed one of them our tickets and she pointed out the auditorium we would be in and told us that they would be opening it for seating in about 20 minutes. In the mean time, she invited us to have a seat at the bar and enjoy ourselves (we could have sat at a table in the lounge but it was full up). With all this attention, this was beginning to feel like an old-time movie experience. I thought I should be wearing formal attire but felt perfectly comfortable in my blue jeans.

The back of the bar was a hive of activity. The bar is laid out with a slight curve and is only big enough for about a dozen or so people but there were at least five bartenders and the occasional supervisor (he had a different colored shirt) performing a well executed dance.

I really wanted to have dinner in the auditorium - just because I could - so I ordered a beer for myself, the wife had a malt beverage, and we ordered a plate of cheese sticks. We should have just ordered dinner because the cheese sticks arrived about two minutes before the auditorium opened. No matter, we took our time, I finished my beer, we finished the appetizer and cashed out.

When we entered the auditorium, someone was right there to usher us to our seats. We told her we had never attended a movie there and she explained that the seriously oversize seats were filled with memory foam and were heated. A small switch in the outer armrests clicked up for high or down for low. A small table was set between the seats and could be moved for our convenience. The best part was the little red button. Push the little red button, she said, and it would call her over and she would get us anything we wanted. This was awesome! The only thing we would have to get up for is a bathroom break.

After a few minutes perusing the menu I pushed the call button. About that same time, the lights dimmed and a brief introduction to the Warren Theatres started. As the announcer welcomed us the heavy, red velvet curtain slowly rose to reveal the projection screen. I had forgotten that in my youth, curtains used to cover the screen prior to the show. The invention of multi-screen theaters saw the end of that but Warren has thought of everything to revitalize the in-theater movie experience. When the waitress stealthily arrived, my wife ordered a turtle sundae and I ordered another beer and a sandwich with fries that I happily munched on almost the entire show.

We were treated to three movie previews and then the most amazing thing happened. The feature started. That's right, no advertisements. No Coca Cola short film, no AT&T sponsored turn-off-your-cell-phone blurb, nada. Actually, that's not entirely true. Since every auditorium is THX certified, we were subjected to the THX intro. This was amazing in and of itself. I believe it is the first time in my life that I have actually felt the bass in a movie theater. The low notes during the demo (and a few throughout the movie) actually vibrated the seats.

I enjoyed the movie. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull humorously acknowledges that the good Dr. Jones is getting a bit long in the tooth, takes a trip back to the original Raiders of the Lost Ark with the appearance of Karen Allen as Marion, and includes all of the adventure, cobwebs, and explosions we've come to expect from the franchise. Surprisingly, however, it left me wanting in the whip-cracking department..

This particular chapter in the saga let me down somewhat. While the premise is loosely based in reality (there really are crystal skulls that have been found) the climax is a little beyond my willing suspension of disbelief. In the end, though, it was a fun ride just like the other two have been. Oh, yeah, three... I keep forgetting about that Temple of Doom one. And it introduces elements that may keep the franchise alive a little longer.

Toward the end of the movie, our waitress noiselessly appeared by my side with our bill. She shined a small, single LED light on the total and handed me the holder. I slipped my debit card inside and handed it back. Within a minute she returned and wordlessly handed me a pen to sign for the total while she used her mini light to assist me. It was totally unobtrusive as was the rest of the wait staff. They were trained well.

There was a theater that Cinemark opened in Tulsa a few years ago that, from the descriptions, I thought would be quite impressive. It turned out to be a standard multiplex with a lot of extra window dressing. The Warren Theatre in Moore is everything I expected it to be. It makes the experience of watching the movie in a theater as important as the movie itself and that is how it should be. If you live anywhere near Moore, OK (I live 65 miles away) you should make an effort to go see a movie at the Warren. If you're over 21 and are on a date or out for a night on the town, spend the extra money (our entire evening including tickets, dinner, and drinks was less than $75) and treat yourself right with balcony seating. At the very least, head upstairs and check out the lounge.

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