Thursday afternoon–the last afternoon of 2015–my wife and I finally saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And we went out of our way to see it at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission. It was our first experience seeing a movie there.
It was a lot of fun, but expensive.
I’ve already written about the New Mission–the restored movie house now run by Alamo Drafthouse. They offer gourmet food, a great variety of alcoholic beverages, comfortable seats, and the best projection (digital and film) available. Their main downstairs theater–the one we went to–has a huge screen.
Taken by author before the theater was ready to open
We arrived early and spent some time in the bar before moving to our reserved seats–front row center. Yes, we were very close to the screen. But for this type of movie, it was just perfect.
Soon after we sat down, our waiter came by, introduced himself, and took our order.
Like so many theaters today, there was a pre-show. But unlike most pre-shows, this one was movie-specific. Instead of annoying advertorials, we were treated to a selection of some of bizarre Star Wars-related videos. We watched Darth Vader dancing like Michael Jackson, with a chorus line of storm troopers behind him. The final short asked the question “What would Star Wars be like if wookiees sounded like Pee-Wee Herman. Then it brought tears of laughter by answering that question.
The real show began with this entertaining but serious warning:
(The version screened in the theater was appropriately censored.)
The food service continued through the movie, but with minimum distraction. Waiters and waitresses bend down when they walk in front of you. If you want to order something after the movie starts, you place a card vertically in a slot on your table. Someone will come over and get it, with no speaking required.
I had a cup of tea and a vegan pizza. The pizza was delicious; the tea was fine, but took an awful lot of time to get to me. My wife had a hamburger with fries. She didn’t think it was exceptional.
But here’s what was exceptional: The projection. The theater used two Sony top-of-the-line 4K digital projectors working together. We had opted to see the film in 2D (because the movie wasn’t actually shot in 3D), which meant that the two projectors were projecting the same image. Why? Brightness. It looked about as good as anything I’ve seen short of film-based Imax. The sound as excellent, as well.
We loved the movie. Director J.J. Abrams understands Star Wars far better than he ever understood Star Trek. In fact, he understands it better than George Lucas ever did. He knows that A Star Wars movie must be big and exciting, with mind-blowing action sequences and special effects. It also needs not-quite-believable, bigger-than-life characters and a simplistic view of good and evil. And he understands that, most important of all, Star Wars isn’t science fiction. It’s Tolkien-like fantasy with sci-fi hardware.
He got just about everything right.
Now the downside: If you’re not careful, going to the New Mission can cost a fortune. The seats were $13.25–and that was for a 2D matinee. The food and beverages were also expensive. My wife’s cocktail cost $14 (including tip). We spent $40 (including tip) for the burger, pizza, and tea; the tea alone cost $5. Including BART fare (we live in the East Bay), the total experience cost us almost $100.
But we went in assuming that this would be splurge. We could have seen it for less than $20 in a nearby theater. But it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as much fun.