The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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My $29 movie experience: Is Gold Class Cinemas the new standard?

December 20, 2010 |  5:15 pm

GoldClassCinema Some of you will be getting a gift certificate for the Gold Class Cinemas in Old Town Pasadena this holiday season. Enjoy your freebie. Tilt your plush movie palace lounger to ultra-recline. Loll about with 50 or 60 of your not-so-closest acquaintances. Soak it all in because, while some of you will love it, some won't be coming back.

Gold Class Cinemas, here and in six other locations around the country, operate on the premise that a certain sort of fan will pay handsomely to be pampered at the movies, with hyper-plush seating and fancy food and drink.

The movie houses, born down in Australia, take online reservations for reserved seats, charging a  whopping $29 a throw on weekend nights.

Based on my experience looking for a seat over a few weeks, there’s quite a bit of demand, even at that price, particularly on Fridays and Saturdays. And Gold Class has been expanding, from four locations a year ago to seven today, so somebody likes what they are doing.

While Gold Class plans to build long-term customer loyalty with its super-plush comforts (which include pillows, blankets and at-your-seat wait service), I am guessing that the chain could also suffer from novelty-fatigue. Do you really need to be with a few dozen strangers to enjoy a movie while beer-buzzed and maxi-recumbent? I thought that’s why living rooms, DVDs and streaming videos were invented.

My wife, Alison, and I checked out “The Fighter” last weekend and found the surroundings a lot less beguiling than the movie itself. Gold Class struck us as a bit too contrived, more successful at advertising its charms than actually producing them.

Though we had a gift card and reservation, it took a couple of minutes for our hostess to check us in and swipe a credit card.

The theater doesn't win a lot of points for ambience--hidden away in a basement once occupied by an old Laemmle in the One Colorado shopping plaza. The underground space has a somewhat claustrophobic air. Unlike some bars at ArcLight theaters, which can be genuinely inviting, I can't imagine frequenting this dankish lounge other than out of necessity.

It took quite a while for our waitress to deliver our complimentary popcorn for two. It arrived in two tiny white bags, but that was OK. Somewhere I saw the popcorn advertised as "gourmet," but it tasted more like the stuff you buy in jumbo bags for your kid's party. With too much salt.

A beer and glass of wine can take the edge off, though the $7 and $11 pricetags were predictably high-end. We’d already eaten, so spared ourselves a rendezvous with the $18 burger trio and $15 fajita quesadilla.

No one could deny that the reclining, ultra-suede-looking orange seats offered far more comfort than the average movie seat. Maybe a little too much comfort. The guy behind us fell sound asleep halfway through "The Fighter." He schnarfulled and schnuffled mightily all the way through the closing credits.

We ran into our friends Henry and Maureen, who sat right in front of us. Maureen said she preferred the more formal experience of a standard theater. "If I am looking for a cozy couch dinner experience, I might as well be at home," said Maureen, a graphic designer, "where I am even more comfy."

I think too many people have been willing to give up on the joy of the communal theater experience. Seeing a really good movie with an audience, caught in the same common moment, can't be topped. I just prefer to do it with my feet on the ground and my head pointed toward the ceiling, with all my wits about me.

--James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

Photo: The plush seating in the Gold Class Cinema in Pasadena. The new super-fancy movie theater in Pasadena, and six other locations nationally, offers food and cocktails at your seat. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times