The Big $35 Movie Ticket

OK, movie prices are up and only get higher, but would you pay $35 for a movie ticket? Australian company Village Roadshow Limited bets you are, once you see their ultra-luxe Gold Class Cinemas. The company is installing these theaters in tony suburbs of Chicago and Redmond, Washington, and plans to open 50 more over the next five years. It’s a safe bet that one or more of these will be headed our way.

As Variety reported recently, here’s what you get for your inflated ticket price: cushy reclining seats, auditoriums with no more than 40 movie-goers, state-of-the-art technology, valet parking and concierge service, and a call button that will ring waiter to your seat, where you can order cocktails, appetizers, and meals like sushi—at an addititional cost.

Here’s what you will not get for your money: a guarantee that the movie will be any good, or a promise that the 39 other moviegoers will be any more quiet or respectable than the rest of the average Joes you usually see a movie with. (Let’s see you try and convince an entitled, upwardly mobile movie patron that he still can’t answer his Blackberry in the middle of a feature—after he’s had a few pre-movie cocktails.)

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Obviously, I hate this idea. I wish I could close my eyes, concentrate really, really hard, and will these things out of existence.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the plight of movie exhibitioners. They’re facing tough competition from increasingly bat-cave-like home theaters. Why should anyone shell out more than 50 bucks for a family of four and deal with giggling teens and cell phone users when they can get the DVD for less than half that and watch it in the comfort of their own home? Or just watch HD TV for the price of the regular cable bill.

And, hey, if you’re a yuppy that wants to blow $35 on something you can get for $12, far be it from me to tell you how to spend your money.

It’s just that I’m afraid the “luxe” movie theaters are going to give regular multiplexes an excuse to throw up their hands and ignore their own faults. Going out to the movies is one of my favorite things to do in the world, but sometimes the theaters try to push how little effort they put in the total experience. Frequent readers of the great Roger Ebert‘s columns know all of the woes: theater owners try to make projector bulbs last longer by keeping them a little too dim, the movies are framed wrong and no one knows how to fix them, there are no more on-site projectionists—instead one projectionist serves every theater chain within a 25-mile radius—so there’s no one actually on-site who knows what they’re doing. The list goes on and on.

Now add these “Gold Class” cinemas into the mix. I could see it going either way. Maybe the competition will get the regular theaters to straighten up and fix their exhibition problems. Or maybe they’ll say, “You want good service? You have to pay for it.”

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If that happens, I’ll probably go broke.

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