Cineworld Cinema - Leicester Square

5 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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Ian on March 6, 2016 at 11:40 am

But stark truth is – aren’t we just the dying act of the dinosaurs here (myself definitely included)?

I have been a member of the CTA (UK Cinema group)for 4 decades. There are still people there that I met on my first visits, but far fewer new members. The age of the stalls and circle cinema with even one set of screen tabs is largely over. It is great that there are still people who remember the style and glamour of the past – but that is what it is – the past. I try to capture it where I find it (Carlton Westgate take a bow) but I struggle to find the enthusiasm to photograph the average (and they are all average) multi-plex. I wish I had known of the future decimation of the Odeons and ABC’s back in the 1970’s – I would have tried much much harder to record them.

Looking into the future does anyone think there will be a multi-plex appreciation society? I don’t know if the blandness is consumer led or whether it is all todays cinema-goers know and expect, and I deplore the decline in presentation standards exacerbated by digital. At a live screening at the Reel in Grantham recently I had to go find someone to turn the house lights off after the interval, at the SJT in Scarborough last week it was full minute (there was a helpful on-screen clock) before anyone turned on the house lights after act 1 of Hangmen. It is all automated (badly) and showmanship has exited via the fire-escape ladder!

CF100 on March 6, 2016 at 11:37 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon—Ah yes, I see what you mean regarding signs for both “cinema” and “IMAX.” My guess is this ultimately boils down to Westminster Council—it would perhaps make more sense to have “CINEMA” on the marquee and a high level “IMAX” sign on the front? As it is IIRC permission for the high level IMAX sign (visible when approaching from the West) went to appeal.

Regarding the dilution of IMAX, that’s a difficult one. AFAIK, the company’s finanical situation was, shall we say, not too good as long as they were in the “institutional” market. So, expand with “Hollywood” product… blow-up to 15/70 using their “DMR” process. And then, of course, they needed more venues.

The other problem, of course, is the demise of film as a distribution medium, and the development of increasingly better digital projection.

So, is IMAX Digital on a 60' wide 1.9:1 screen the same as a 15/70 in an “institutional” purpose-built venue? Perhaps not, although “immersiveness” is to an extent a function of auditorium size (or rather depth)—but is it bad? The IMAX Digital projection system is very good and they have their own patented technologies incorporated.

(By the way, I went with a friend for my first trip to the Empire to see the “IMAX with Laser” system—and I was surprised when it seemed they did not noticed the (blatant) difference between it and the previous “IMAX Digital” projection—let alone my laundry list of points!)

In the case of the Empire LS, given that few releases are 1.4:1 anyway, in all technical respects the answer is yes—as the “IMAX with Laser” projection system is the replacement for 15/70 projection in “classic” venues, and the screen width and auditorium depth are all well in line with “classic” IMAX cinemas.

IMAX seem to be sustaining what they’re doing at the moment, with massive expansion in China. There is a real threat from Dolby’s “Dolby Vision” system and more generally that 4K laser projection capable of filling “giant” screens is not exclusive to IMAX (which, again, ties in with the long term prospects for 15/70 as a distribution medium.)

Either way, as long as there are cinemas, IMAX or not, giant screens are here to stay.

In agreement with you on “tiles” and “monotony.” The difficulty is, if we accept the conversion of Empire 1 as a given, then what to do? Basically, I’m looking at it from the perspective of “could I have come up with a better proposal?” On reflection, maybe—perhaps modern acoustic tiles could meet the requirements whilst better retaining the original look.

(As for other theatrical aspects, keep in mind that I complained to GM Stephen Bush about the LED sequencing, after attending a screening on opening day!)

Of course the 1962 auditorium was a great place to watch films, one that I prefered over any other venue. Also, for a long time it had a reputation for its excellent sound system; but there’s no question that the slap/flutter echo was a problem—at times it made for poor dialogue intelligibility. (And why, going back to for instance THX standards, control of reverberation time in auditoria has been a requirement—all the more puzzling how Empire 1 was ever certified, even if the sound was first rate in all other respects.)

(Granted, if Empire 1 were kept, taming it may not have necessitated removing all of the tiles—perhaps just the addition of some absorption. The front of the projection booth would have been one obvious starting point. Having said that, it’s not fully tamed in the IMAX auditorium—but much improved.)

Hopefully this post hasn’t bored everyone to tears!

FanaticalAboutOdeon on March 6, 2016 at 9:47 am

I wouldn’t assume every “man in the street” was aware multiplexes, or sub-divided cinemas like the Empire, only ever have one IMAX screen and, if they must have anything other that “EMPIRE” on the canopy, doesn’t the generic term “cinema” more truthfully describe what’s on offer? By all means have “IMAX” on the front-of-house but not instead of “CINEMA”. Now that IMAX installations are becoming common across the U.K., like Cinerama before it, the name is already becoming diluted – especially as presenting feature films in the format, spectacular though it undoubtedly is, in my experience, reminds the less initiated that it’s far from what they once experienced in Bradford, the Trocadero or BFI IMAX in London. Also akin to Cinerama, travelogue/documentary films can’t sustain a format for ever – at least digital product doesn’t have to be made especially for the system – but I’ve been asked more than once why “Gravity” and “Star Wars – the Force Awakens” had strips of blank screen above and below the actual picture. “Clinical and soulless” comes down to something much simpler i.e. the lack of anything remotely theatrical to subliminally create atmosphere and a sense of occasion – be it screen curtains, artistic lighting (ultra-bright, dimmable LEDs can be used with colour gels – they don’t have to be the three primaries constantly rising, fading and blending “Christmas tree” fashion through the single and secondary hues) or internal architecture offering something other than variations on the black box principle. Look at George Cole’s Empire cinema of 1962 where the arcing ceiling sections and random gold coloured tiles breaking up the monotony of such vast spaces – was it such a dreadful place to watch and hear films? Not in my experience.

CF100 on March 6, 2016 at 9:42 am

That being said, that reminds me—here are some links to photos (and accompanying notes) of some restoration work to the Empire’s frontage, carried out in 2007:

Photo 1 Photo 2 Photo 3

CF100 on March 6, 2016 at 9:24 am

The facade is hideous and as I have said before on these pages, whilst I respect the classically informed work of Thomas Lamb, it certainly isn’t to my taste and the facade is the last (visibly) remaining section. The mismatched balcony only serves to make it worse. Better off covering it up again!

That said, the balcony is, as far as I’m aware, only used by the casino as an outdoor section of a bar—so I’m not sure how much of a “copy” of the OLS' balcony it is?

There are many questionable aspects of IMAX’s marketing, but the proof is in the pudding—they do have their own (often patented) technologies and in-house R&D. One has to consider that the IMAX signs alone are effectively worth a substantial sum in terms of advertising—given Westminster Council’s strong presumption of “no adverts.”

IMAX only ever have one auditorium within a multi-screen cinema.

On the subject of “clinicial and soulness”—I’ve often wondered, in a broader and general sense, whether this comes down to the use of old materials/products. For instance, the plaster tiles in Empire 1 were “unique” in the sense that one presumably not find them anywhere else today, but were surely a factory-made product. Stretch fabric wall coverings over acoustic absorption are not “unique”—but certainly technically superior. (Of course, cold cathode lights are “warm” whilst LEDs aren’t—but that’s another story.)

Ian: Thank you for posting links to those nice photos.

FanaticalAboutOdeon on February 29, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Terry, it is! The “façade” is an architectural jumble sale – upper part of the original façade visible but only when not hidden by all-over film banner, an open glazed area sits on the canopy attempting to imitate, without success, the Odeon’s 1998 external balcony over on the Square’s east side, while the uninspiring canopy no longer says “CINEMA” it now says “IMAX” even though only one screen in the complex justifies the brand. A mess.

terry on February 29, 2016 at 6:34 am

It all looks cold, clinical and soulless……………….

CF100 on February 15, 2016 at 12:41 am

Some remarkable photos of the Empire auditorium block under construction in 1927…

This one in particular puts the Screen 1 conversion into context. As the IMAX screen is positioned slightly past the “kink” in the righthand wall, it can be seen how narrowly it avoids the roof structure, with the middle of the screen behind the truss, and the sides ahead of it.

More photos:

Steelwork 1 Steelwork 2

It can be seen that the Coles-designed auditorium ceiling follow(s/ed) the shape of the roof, particularly the curved section adjacent to the booth.

The dome of the Lamb-designed auditorium under construction:

Dome 1 Dome 2

N.B. I am posting this is a matter of interest and to provide a record on this excellent site, rather than as a value judgement of any particular iteration of the Empire Leicester Square, although it goes without saying that the Coles-designed auditorium must stand as the canonical version.

CF100 on February 9, 2016 at 3:00 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon—I completely understand what you’re saying and why it’s not for you.

A little confused that you should end up with headache at the Empire IMAX and not elsewhere? The auditorium depth is about the same as the BFI IMAX…

FanaticalAboutOdeon on February 8, 2016 at 3:05 am

Compared to the BFI Odeon IMAX at Waterloo and the National Media Museum IMAX in Bradford, the Leicester Square installation felt decidedly inferior and the auditorium too shallow. I left with a headache, something I seldom suffer, and I’m afraid “left” is the operative word. While most would either not notice or just accept the LED lighting around the vast, naked screen, it fails to replicate the remarkable, cold cathode system which so attractively bathed the Empire Cinema/One auditorium and recalls Christmas tree LEDs just constantly pedalling through the hues as a gesture by architects as opposed to a lighting designer. The foyer, and facilities at that level, was excellent although the entrance area between the pavement and the stairs was very tacky on my visit. Our views are inevitably somewhat esoteric and I respect those of fellow cinema fans who still enjoy what’s on offer at the Empire. It’s just not for me.

CF100 on February 8, 2016 at 2:21 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon—I still clearly remember my first visit to Screen 1—and, like you, loved it ever since.

Sadly, we all know that it was no longer commercially viable and (the IMAX screen) is a very good conversion, resulting in what is still a large and comfortable auditorium (about 90ft.x130ft.) and now equipped with perhaps the best projection available today.

It is still very much run as a flagship venue—helpful and friendly staff, glitzy foyer areas, premieres, etc. Of course it’s not the same and I wish the conversion hadn’t happened, but I still find what it has to offer is far above average.

I can understand if one finds the massive IMAX screen to be altogether too overwhelming—I felt weak to my knees after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”!

FanaticalAboutOdeon on February 7, 2016 at 5:00 am

The Screen 1 conversion details are very interesting and appreciated. Sadly it’s all theory to me now as one visit to the IMAX screen was enough. Having loved the Empire Cinema/One since 1971, the present “pretend multiplex” has no charm whatsoever. The only cinema in Leicester Square I visit these days has a 120' black tower.

CF100 on February 6, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Screen 1 conversion details

Including a photo of the IMPACT auditorium under construction.

The challenges posed by the conversion project are discussed in some further detail than the Cinema Technology Magazine article; to summarise:

  • The dividing wall is 15x40m and weighs 50 tons (a different figure?)

  • As Cinema Technology Magazine noted, the dividing wall had to isolated from the floor and is hung from the roof; additional considerations were that Empire had no access under the auditorium floor and it was incapable of carrying the dividing wall’s load. The difficulties in doing so are briefly mentioned (e.g. monitoring roof structure deflections as building work progressed.)

  • Building of the IMPACT auditorium also had constraints on floor loading and lack of access. The balcony is supported by a 17m long main girder, visible in the second photo on that page.

CF100 on January 27, 2016 at 12:58 pm

I have now paid a visit to the Empire LS to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

A few comments on the “IMAX with Laser” system.

As promised, it is capable of resolving excellent levels of details, freedom from pixellation (end credits, for example), and the colour rendition is outstanding—light sabres, for instance, look very “fluorescent” and “neon-like.”

Black levels are good, though not zero level as IMAX implies.

The caveat is that it feels very much like a “1st generation” system—if not quite out of the prototype stage. It must be stressed that most of these are minor issues, but they are enough to be distracting and signal to the brain “this is not a window onto a fictional reality… it is digital projection.”

There appear to be some minor digital image processing artefacts. Furthermore, a slight dithering was visible, manifesting as very fine grain; and I am not sure if the laser speckling issue has been completely resolved.

The “IMAX with Laser” system uses Dolby 3D (!) glasses (due to patent issues.) Before the main feature, sometimes only one projector was in use and putting on the glasses revealed as such as the image appeared to be visible in only one eye. Unfortunately, closing that eye revealed a surprising level of crosstalk in the other eye.

With the 3D glasses on, at times the extremities of the screen exhibited noticeable colour shift with a distinct purple (IIRC) tint; and the image brightness was insufficient.

In a brief discussion with a member of staff after the film, he expressed the view that the glasses aren’t big enough, and this needs to be fixed. Thus, this lends weight to my contention that the system is still a work in progress.

The laser projection system is punishing in revealing the limitations of the source material—and “Star Trek: The Force Awakens” was largely shot on 35mm.

(I did not like the movie.)

“IMAX with Laser” is, in my view, almost there and if/when niggling points are ironed out it will be excellent. I reiterate that I am being ultra-picky (in view of the grandoise promises made by IMAX)—as it stands this is a spectacular moviegoing experience.

Finally, as the full screen width is now filled, not only is the image even more immersive—but a surprising benefit is, when seated in the middle of the auditorium, the design of the IMAX conversion of Screen 1 looks better proportioned and harmonious.

CF100 on January 26, 2016 at 3:14 pm

An article on the IMAX with Laser install; some technical information.

Article with photos.

In particular, this one of the auditorium.

The additional new IMAX speakers can be seen, and the seats are bear the marque “Pepsi MAX – IMAX.” (Sigh.)

Also, the new laser projectors are visible.

And What Hi-Fi also has a write up with photos and positive comments on the picture quality.

CF100 on January 26, 2016 at 11:50 am

Piet_Morant: The sound system you refer to was the THX-certified one from 1989 with the main stage speakers being JBL 4675, and by the mid-1990s, support for all 35mm digital sound formats.

I, too, recall the sound was first rate (excepting the acoustic problems of Screen 1.)

(I also visited the Empire for “Forrest Gump”—but not “Speed,” for which I visited the Odeon West End…)

By the end of UCI’s operation, the THX certification had been dropped and the screen speakers changed to Martin Audio, which did not seem to be an improvement.

In the mid-2000s, Empire Cinemas completely replaced the sound system in Screen 1 with JBL ScreenArrays and no less than 16x JBL 4645C subwoofers.

An incredible system, but it didn’t seem to be as well tuned as the original THX installation (too much HF.) Dolby Atmos was more recently added. The system was moved to the IMPACT screen (with upgraded surrounds and no THX certification.) Alas, on my trip, the performance was not in the league of the Screen 1 install—perhaps it’s been better tuned since then.

The sound installation in the IMAX screen is also excellent and the acoustics much improved over Screen 1.

After a busy few months, I finally have a chance to see Star Wars with the new laser projector system and additional overhead/side IMAX speakers. Report to follow…

goodshow on December 21, 2015 at 4:35 am

Monday December 21, 2015. BBC Radio interview at length with the CEO of IMAX UK at the Empire telling us all about its technicalities. Comes in at around 20 minutes as part of a Business Britain update

Wurlitzer420 on December 6, 2015 at 11:39 am

Luckilly the organ was saved by Len Rawle who installed it in his special build home in chorleywood

davepring on October 5, 2015 at 7:14 am

Although I also regret the twinning of Empire 1 it was not sustainable in that form with over 1300 seats to fill.The screen is NOT tiny and the laser projection is superb. At least the cinema will not suffer the same fate as the Odeon West End with two cinemas in the basement!!!

Piet_Morant on September 13, 2015 at 4:02 pm

I haven’t been here since I was a teenager but remember it having an awesome sound system. Seeing ‘Speed’ at this theatre is one of my most memorable movie-going experiences.

Movies I saw here:

Forrest Gump, Speed, Mission Impossible

MovieGeek2013 on September 6, 2015 at 4:46 pm

The first IMAX with laser film will actually be Everest 3D and it opens there on 18th September.

davepring on September 4, 2015 at 10:20 am

The laser system goes live October2 with The Walk. Spectre and the new Star Wars film will also be shown here in IMAX

CF100 on August 27, 2015 at 4:06 pm

Empire Cinemas is advertising the installation of the ‘IMAX with Laser’ projection system at the Empire Leicester Square, the first in Europe.

According to this article, it will be installed by ‘the end of summer.’

Empire_fan on July 2, 2015 at 4:30 pm

Cinema signs (1976) Empire at start.