Tried & tested: FLEAPIT OR PALACE?

Our panellists screen test six cinema chains to see how the space- age out-of-town multiplex compares with its predecessor

The day of the cineaste appears to have been superseded by the advent of the cinema-goer - people who decide what they're going to see once they've arrived at their multiplex choice.

In the Forties and Fifties, a trip to the cinema was exhilarating because it brought a bit of glamour to humdrum British lives. Nowadays, "going to the pictures" is a Hollywood-style themed experience: a sophisticated drive-in, park-up, hot-dog'n'popcorn distraction.

The arrival of multi-screen cinemas from the States in the mid-Eighties has led to a revival in cinema-going, particularly among the young with those between 15 and 24 accounting for around a third of cinema-goers.

But are the theatres as samey and charmless as many of the films they screen? Our panel investigates.

THE PANEL

The film fans who suffered six nights of entertainment were architectural assistant Luke Tozer, from Bristol, Ruth Eden, who lives in London, and Saul Metzstein, a Glasgow-based film-maker and hot-dog connoisseur.

THE TEST

The testers went to different cinemas in six chains. Although ticket price was more dependent on location than chain, they assessed value for money according to the service - from queuing times and confectionery selection, to comfort, and sound and projection quality.

***WARNER BROS

Luke Tozer, although not overjoyed by the Bristol Warner Bros cinema he visited, was pleased to find a chain that offers multiplex-quality service within town centres. "If there's one company seeming to smarten up cinemas within cities it's this one, it scored highly across the board," he said, despite complaining of too few late-night screenings and some irritatingly small screens.

"Advertising and promotion over-kill," was Ruth Eden's description of the Warner West End in Britain's tourist Mecca, Leicester Square. "What with the banks of television screens to being asked `Would you like popcorn with your regular cola?' to WBFM (Warner Bros radio) piped into the auditorium, I felt I had paid a whopping pounds 7.50 for the pleasure of being bombarded with further opportunities to invest in the Warner Bros cause."

***ODEON

"The best thing about this cinema is that it is situated in the centre of town - the experience feels like a night out rather than a trip to B&Q," said Saul Metzstein of the Glasgow theatre.

Ruth Eden agreed: "No multiplex I've ever visited can compare to the atmosphere and big main screens in older cinemas. Though the smaller, secondary auditoriums certainly leave plenty to be desired." Saul Metzstein suggested he would be happier if they were cheaper than main screens: "They're such a mixed bag, being conversions from larger auditoriums in the strive to accommodate more screens."

Luke Tozer found the Odeon in Bristol reminiscent of a bygone era. "Somehow the latest end-of-summer blockbusters looked as though they had been showing for the last four months. Is mustiness really such a virtue?"

****OASIS CINEMAS

All the testers found this chain, which straddles mainstream and art- house, offered good value for money and pleasing theatres - although unlike the big multiplexes, the fewer screens at the cinemas in this chain (the Cameo in Edinburgh and the Ritzy and Gate in London), meant a limited selection of films. Saul Metzstein said, "The Cameo has a pleasantly relaxed and non-commercial feel about it - a million miles away from multiplex land. Ticket prices are reasonable and there is a good selection of confectionery (though no match to the likes of the Odeon). Cruelly, there are no hot- dogs."

Large and small screens alike had good sound and projection.

**UCI

These cinemas did not falter on the sound and projection quality we've come to expect from multiplexes, but did let the testers down when it came to queuing. Saul Metzstein said of the UCI he visited in an "out- of-town" shopping-centre in Clydebank, near Glasgow: "The confectionery selection is good, but the prices seemed high and the hot-dogs are virtually inedible. Worst though are the queues, which are tediously long and slow - it's as if the people serving don't realise that you are there to see a film, which will start with or without you."

The testers agreed that the auditoriums were hi-tech and comfortable but chose this chain to bring up the subject of location. As Luke Tozer said: "Virtually all out-of-town cinemas rely solely on the car with very limited public transport. Each of these leisure-boxes demands large-scale movement of people - I don't understand why they are not responsible enough, or compelled by planners, to organise proper transport."

**ABC

After taking over the former MGM cinemas, Virgin promptly sold off half of them to ABC. In contrast to the Virgin strategy of modernisation and renewal, ABC appears to have carried on where MGM left off, save for swapping the three-letter logo.

Saul Metzstein said of the ABC he visited: "It's from another era of movie-going, specifically, the mid-Seventies low-attendance, bad-projection, sticky-floors era. The cinema bar looks so dated that it should be preserved for anthropological reasons - in fact, it looks more like a film set of a bar than a bar." Significantly, though, he judged their hot-dogs "splendid".

Ruth Eden found the same retro feel in the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue in London ("all low-slung velveteen seats with ashtray insets in the back"), but commented on the smart new bar which seemed to be an ideal meeting point. Overall, Ruth found it a pleasant experience: "It wasn't the all- singing, all-dancing multiplex but it had a certain real-world feel about it and a pleasant calm which allowed the film to be the entertainment."

But, as with the Odeon, Luke Tozer and Saul Metzstein found the smaller auditoriums unbearable and projection and sound quality largely unimpressive.

***VIRGIN

Ruth Eden visited Virgin's first-ever purpose-built theatre in Medway Valley, Kent, but found it "completely faceless. I felt as though it had been zapped on to this empty site from outer-space." She described it as "a Virgin megastore which just happens to have nine cinema screens out back. It caters for your every need: there's a bar, a merchandising shop, multi-media displays, refreshments galore, touch-sensitive screens for buying tickets and a special luxury auditorium where, for the premium- price pounds 10 ticket, you get extra services including a coat check and private bar. They even seem to have solved the queuing problem with self-service confectionery, freeing staff to concentrate on the tills. Apart from the location," she concluded, "the biggest problem is the film living up to the sensory extravaganza that is the lobby."

Saul Metzstein had a far less exhilarating experience in the Glasgow Virgin converted from an MGM cinema. Although the projection and sound quality were good, he found the interior unpleasant ("altogether the place feels cheap") and said the all-important hot-dog had "a dark-brown exterior, and tasted like the napkin it came in".

He found the staff helpful, though. "At the confectionery counter, they asked me what I was going to see, and looked genuinely sympathetic when I told them Escape from LA." !

NEXT WEEK: PUSHCHAIRS

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all