Cineplex Odeon to expand “VIP” theatres. Good idea, or bad?

One of the more minor items in the news yesterday: Cineplex Odeon is launching a new five-auditorium, adults-only VIP section at its Queensway theatre complex in Etobicoke, ON—the first of many such sections to come over the next two years. According to the Toronto Star, the VIP “experience” means big, La-Z-Boy-style seats (good?) being able to buy alcohol (definitely good!), and having to pay an extra $7-10 per ticket (definitely bad!). So unless you go on a Tuesday—“cheap night”—each ticket will run you a minimum of $20.

I’m not sure what to think about all this. On the one hand, I’m all for improving the currently miserable theatrical experience; on the other, I’m not at all sure this is the way to do it. The Cineplex Odeon-owned Varsity Cinema in Toronto has had a four-auditorium VIP section for years, and it’s pathetic: the screens are tiny, the sound tinny, the rooms so small you feel like you’re in a stranger’s living room. Plus, the much-ballyhooed “table service” amounts to a teenage staffer sticking his head in the door and bellowing, “Does anybody want anything?” Worst of all, your fellow audience members aren’t any more attentive or considerate than at an ordinary screening; in fact, they’re often worse. Having paid more, they act all the more entitled: to talk loudly, to text, to eat and drink noisily.

I really don’t want to pay more to see movies, but if I’m going to be convinced to, here’s my idea of a VIP experience:

1)   Bigger screens, not smaller
2)   Great audio
3)   No commercials or inane interactive “game play” before the movie
4)   Ushers who remain present throughout the film and actively stop anyone from creating a disturbance
5)   Cell phone signal blockage

These new VIP screens fail on all five of those counts. In fact, the only thing appealing about them, to my mind, is that you can drink alcohol at them. And really, that’s not that big a plus—the prices for the alcohol will probably be outrageous, and who can’t wait two hours for a drink?

A much better model of the VIP approach is the newish U.S.-based Alamo Drafthouse theatre chain, which actually isn’t VIP at all: tickets cost the same there as they do everywhere else. What makes them special is that they’re all about the movies: about enhancing the experience of watching, not about bombarding you with more add-ons. They serve food and alcoholic beverages, but their biggest draw is that they prioritize presentation quality and audience civility. They’re infamous for their “zero-tolerance” policy towards talking and texting. According to their website, “If you talk or text, you will receive one warning. If it happens again, you will be kicked out without a refund.”

Now that is my idea of VIP. Screw Cineplex Odeon—when’s the Alamo Drafthouse gonna open in Canada?