I fully planned on writing a piece today on "The 5th Wave", which I went to see this past Friday night. However, the experience of the actual theater changed all of that. And it wasn't great (nor was "The 5th Wave" but that is another story for another time).
Over the past couple of years, the area of Madison, WI has had some changes in the world of cinema as a new big player came to town. Up until that point, Madison had seven movie theaters: AMC Fitchburg 18, Sundance Cinema, UW Cinema, Stoughton Cinema Cafe, Market Square Cinema, Marcus Point Cinema on Big Sky Drive, and Eastgate Cinema. Currently, we still have seven, but Eastgate cinema has closed and Marcus has opened a movie theater on a east side suburb, Sun Prairie.
That new theater is, to say the least, posh. It has a full restaurant and bar, electronic ticketing devices, a choose your seat feature, and every theater has recliner chairs. There are also two "bistro" theaters where people are served meals while watching a show. It is movie's done right and I am not giving it any justice.
Since it opened in 2015 I've hardly ever stepped foot inside one of the others, prior to that I frequented them all except the free theater at UW and that was mainly just about location. Each of the theaters brought something a little different to the table.
The Stoughton Cinema cafe is a small town theater. It has four screens. Each theater has tables where families can sit. It isn't great sound or state of the art anything, but you can grab a piece of pizza or ice cream and be out of there under 10 bucks (including the food).
Sundance has very nice amenities, but the crucial part of that theater is its pick in films. It has mainstream movies like "The Force Awakens" but it also plays indie films and does it well. Side note, It has the best popcorn I've ever had.
The UW theater is free and it sometimes has new films but also plays old great films and student-made film. Did I mention that it's free? It is a place for students to gather and for meetings to take place, very good for what it is.
While it isn't free, the Market Square Cinema is very cheap. Like the Stoughton theater you can get out under 10 bucks, but unlike the Stoughton theater, it doesn't play first run movies. For a person on a budget who is willing to wait and doesn't expect any greatness from the theater itself, it is perfect.
This would leave Marcus Cinema's on Big Sky Drive, the East side Market theater and AMC's Fitchburg 18. Essentially all were the same. Same prices, same food, same chairs, the same amount of screens or so, and of course, the same movies. Thus, the reason that up until April of 2015 I chose my theater going by location. But then the Sun -Prairie theater came and I never looked back. That was until this past Friday...
I had an open window of time that was unexpected but from work the Sun Prairie theater was 40-50 minutes in five o'clock traffic so I decided I would go to the Fitchburg theater that was only 7 miles away from my job. I hadn't been there in almost a year and hadn't heard they made renovations. Renovations that were quite obviously trying to compete with Marcus' Sun Prairie theater.
When I walked into the theater the first notable change is that the ticket booths were gone and replaced with electric ticket machines. No one greeted me, which is not the case at the SunPrairie theater. They have e-ticket service but also people say hi when you walk in the door. The next thing to notice was a lack of organization. The ticket machines are in an oval and no one seemed to nowhere to go and no staff was there to help. There was a person taking the paper ticket stub of course, but he couldn't help anyone as his service was as a ticket taker, not a ticket maker.
The next noticeable change was to my left. There was a bar where there had been none before. The bar is a nice feature but comparatively, it is very small. It had maybe five bar stools whereas the Prairie theater has at least, twenty and multiple bar staff, this had only one manning the alcohol.
I received some sort of grunt for my ticket from ticket-guy and headed in. I don't recall him even telling me where theater 13 was located. Nonetheless, I was here for my show, so I moved on.
I went to the concessions counter. While they don't have the selection the other does, it is the food you would expect at a theater. I ordered a large soda and large popcorn. May I just say also, a fault of both theaters and practically all theaters is that we now have butter machines out of range of concessions. I liked being able to ask someone to butter the popcorn, and more importantly, asking them to do it mid-way through.
This little 40-second window was by far the best part of the service. The staff who served me greeting me nicely, asked what I wanted, did things swiftly and even threw in a couple jokes. He was an extremely nice cashier. Unfortunately, it went back downhill from there.
I went to the soda station - one of those do it yourself Coke machines. I ended up playing Goldie Locks and the three bears. Machine 1: No ice and no diet soda available. Machine 2: Ice but still no diet soda and then finally Machine 3: No lids to its side, but it did have diet soda. Just for giggles I checked to see if the 3rd machine had ice... Nope.
On to the butter counter. First off, it was disgusting. It wasn't clean and that would be okay except it was a 4 pm movie, on a Friday night and it wasn't like the place was filled. In fact, there were several of the staff milling around and joking around instead of assisting people or cleaning anything, pretty sad really. The butter itself streamed well and tasted fine when I ate it later. The salt came out like Niagara Falls but at least there was some. At the other counter next to mine, there wasn't.
Now I was finally ready to head to my movie in aforementioned theater 13. I found it by looking at the big screen with the number 8-18 highlighted. What felt like an eternity finally ended in me seeing glorious number 13, the last theater in the entire place. Seriously, it was like a city block from the counter to the theater. There weren't any other movies playing at that time really, and it wasn't like it was that much older. Put the movie somewhere else, it made no sense.
After saying hello to a giant "Deadpool", I entered the theater. To my surprise, recliner seats! I was the first patron there (one of 4 eventually, so sad) so I had my choice of rump meeter. I chose one level up and in the middle. When the movie started I can say I chose well, good sound excellent visual capacity. But we aren't quite there yet.
I was early, I will admit, abut 20 minutes. So walking into a dark theater with no music playing and no commercials was a surprise, and for the first ten minutes, quite frankly, a welcomed silent partner. But when the other 3 people came in and we still had 10 minutes to the movie, I was surprised that this aspect never changed. No tunes, no commercials, and the lights stayed fairly low. To be honest, this isn't a big deal to me, just surprising. Why wouldn't you market yourself at all times when you have the chance, or for that matter, have the ads people pay for running as people arrive. Bad business sense to me.
Prior to the trailer's I made the decision to use the restroom. Now this is another pleasant aspect from the trip. Sun Prairie's bathrooms are small and often times don't have the capacity to handle all the people at the same time. This was a large bathroom (Men's) with at least 8 stalls and 4 stand ups. The soap dispersed well and the heat of the water was spot on. Towels were available and the garbage was not overflowing.
Back into the theater, I went, still dark, still silent. Within 30 seconds though the trailers began. I don't remember them all but I know that three of them were "Risen", "The conjuring 2", and "X-Men: Apocolypse". Definitely, a miss here, as there is a trailer available for "10 Cloverfield Lane" available for launch as well as "The Wave" both about end of the world and/or alien domination scenarios, just like "The Fith Wave". I guess in some way the three that were played made sense. Risen is essentially about a zombie...(just joking). it really made no sense.
The movie itself was enjoyable for what it was. At first, I couldn't figure out where to exit but then I saw the big doors. Upon exiting I was treated to two old popcorn tables lying on the cement, may they rest in peace. Kind of trashy if you ask me. The snow that was there wasn't pushed back and no one had put anything down to take care of the ice.
In the end, the truth is, AMC failed this city. Their revamp of the theater was pretty awful and Sun Prairie and the Marcus cinema company in general should feel no concern about a rivalry ever starting in Madison, WI. Choose wisely friends.