Empire Cinema

5-6 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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davepring
davepring on August 6, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Have you visited the Empire???…the IMAX screen is huge and the projection first rate as is the quality of the conversion.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on August 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm

In fairness to the Empire conversion, I should add that my friend attended an “invitation” Impact screening either just before or just after the cinema went public so things may well have been tweaked by now. The substance within the double wall at Harrogate was indeed foam but it also contained an added ingredient which was, I believe, something of an innovation at the time. Your thoughts on a two-auditorium O.L.S. make perfect sense but, alas, your reservations about the steelwork are spot on! The main balcony girder, which is anchored within the side walls of the building, sits immediately below the wall at the front of the balcony. The wall describes an arc whereas the girder has a straight centre span and, roughly where the two aisles separate the centre and side seating blocks, changes direction at either side very slightly to enter the walls nearer the stage. This “front” girder is something of a linchpin to which several sloping girders emanating from a second, slightly shorter and straight primary girder below the rear circle promenade, are riveted. There are several sets of bracing girders running side to side in threes between front and back and a third, huge girder beneath the central cross gangway (not strong enough to act as main girder at the front of a foreshortened circle). Any interference with the Odeon’s brilliant skeleton would be unthinkable in engineering terms short of a re-building amounting to demolition and starting again. Given what happened eventually to the old Warner (and what it’s replacement is like now) I mention rebuilding in extremely hushed tones! Other than the obvious insertion of a second screen somehow, below the balcony or, heaven forbid, on the stage as happened with the Paramount/Odeon Glasgow’s expensive tripling or Odeon Swiss Cottage more recently, it’s hard to think of any other palatable options.

CF100
CF100 on August 3, 2014 at 11:33 am

If Odeon want to keep the stage, then one option I can think of is to eliminate the Royal Circle, so the front stalls would be extended back with a dividing wall at the front of the rear circle… although existing steelwork may well mean this is not be feasible!

CF100
CF100 on August 3, 2014 at 11:33 am

FanaticalAboutOdeon, thanks for the long and fascinating post! Acceptance of sound leakage may be a generational thing, although I too would prefer zero, but also accept that even with good soundproofing, it can be inevitable. VUE West End Screen 4, for example, suffers from unacceptable sound leakage; having seen the original plans it seems that the basement cinemas (1-4) were designed as be two auditoria but were centrally divided.

It would be interesting to know what the “dense substance” was, I can only think of expanding foam.

The long-term viability of West End cinemas showing “blockbuster” product must surely be questionable. It is disappointing that your friend thought the picture/sound in the Impact screen was not up to par, as I had hoped that it would have improved by now (e.g. audio calibration/tuning.) That being the case, other than Dolby Atmos, it is hard to see how it is provides a different experience to the average so-called “large format” suburban multiplex, and tickets remain at West End prices. It is quite possible to visit the Impact screen without entering the long “Grand Foyer” which does provide that extra bit of class and expectation.

The Empire LS IMAX is of a high standard, but I do fear that the Odeon LS will end up with two medicore screens which just happen to keep some existing interior features.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on August 2, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I too think the last remaining really big West End cinema would lend itself to creating an extra special experience on the lines you mention. The Odeon itself is already a celebrity cinema in its own right and with the option of fine dining and perhaps more use made of the circle lounge with its panoramic views of the Square and more regular use of the organ, the cinema could offer something no other London cinema now can. It appears the reason Odeon want to keep the stage end intact is mainly the ability to retain both 2D and 3D screens with the one not in use stored at the rear of the stage or flown respectively. Distributors prefer their 2D product on a white screen and 3D on silver. It makes very good sense and I personally wouldn’t want to loose the proscenium arch or orchestra pit/organ.

davepring
davepring on August 2, 2014 at 6:55 am

If I were Odeon I would think about offering a more unique experience without twinning such as replacing the stalls seating with tables and inserting a bar /restaurant under the circle overhang.This works well at The Rex Berkhamsted and The Regal in Evesham and of course has been tried successfully at Odeon Whiteleys. The West End is overscreened and Empire took the initiative in twinning the main Empire with two still sizeable auditoriums with massive sceens. Everyman Cinemas are expanding rapidly which shows that customers will pay for a premium experience and although Odeon clearly have a multiplex mindset they should think carefully about their Leicester Square flagship.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on August 2, 2014 at 6:03 am

Like you, my friend was none too impressed with the projection or sound in the Impact cinema. Tolerance of sound leakage, like so many other things, is partly a generational thing and my own personal requirement is zero, but then when almost every cinema was a stand-alone and sound systems far less dynamic, the problem only reared its head when a railway line ran near the cinema (having been the manager of the single screen Havana/Odeon in Romford I can certainly vouch for this!). When the balcony of Harrogate Odeon was divided to provide two of the current five screens, I understand two steel partitions were built and coated on the outside before the narrow void between them was pumped full of a very dense substance (?) to absorb sound and sound vibration. This was demonstrated for me when I stood in a dark screen one while a “thumping blockbuster” boomed away next door and only when both side-by-side entrance doors were simultaneously open could anything remotely be heard. I was amazed that even the original circle floor steppings didn’t carry the least vibration either and was told the steel partitions were anchored deep within the balcony void. This was without any structural reinforcement which says a lot for the transverse main balcony girder positioned in 1936! I’m given to understand that Odeon are, at present, keen to retain Leicester Square’s stage house and orchestra pit/organ housing which begs the question of where a second auditorium would fit as, more than once in the past, the theatre was only saved from twinning/tripling by the fact that clearance in the rear stalls area was less than that in the average original Odeon. One scheme which came close to fruition in the mid-‘seventies proposed a second screen, sideways on in the rear stalls with front stalls seating retained for the main screen. Apparently, the complexities of lowering the floor (no excavation needed as there are usable spaces below) and creating a lateral rake were great enough to confine that plan to history. The presence of the “new” Odeon, St. Martin’s Lane with 700+ seats and a release pattern which still allowed O.L.S. very lucrative exclusive opening runs, all combined to ward off any meddling with the near 2,000 seater. The capacity made O.L.S. the obvious choice for the biggest charity screenings including the annual Royal Film Performance but, of course, that has now decamped to a concert hall in Kensington and an arena in SE10 – how things change! We can only watch and wait…

CF100
CF100 on August 1, 2014 at 9:24 pm

That’s dissappointing to hear that there’s some sound leakage but not surprising. It would be interesting to know what kind of sound (low frequency?), and it I don’t think it’s a dealbreaker if it’s audible a small percentage of the time. After all, THX cinemas are allowed a certain amount of leakage from adjacent auditoria, and I’ve heard distant rumbles when in VUE West End Screen 7 (presumably from Screen 5 below.)

As I mentioned in a previous post here, I was told that the extra weight carried was 9 tonnes and structural reinforcements were required. Even if that’s not the case, the dividing walls, screens, etc. must weigh a fair bit! That said, I’d assume double wall construction has been used—I’d imagine IMAX have similar requirements as THX for sound leakage.

The lack of distance between the two screens could be another issue—unavoidable since the IMPACT auditorium extends back into what was the screen void of Empire 1, right up to the wall. I think the Odeon LS has more leeway in that respect (assuming the circle is converted into one auditorium and the front stalls into the screen void another.)

I would be interested to know if Empire have managed to improve the projection and sound in the IMPACT screen, which (unlike the IMAX screen) certainly wasn’t up to par on my visit.

FanaticalAboutOdeon
FanaticalAboutOdeon on August 1, 2014 at 8:09 pm

A friend of mine was among an invited group to be shown a demonstration film in the Impact cinema and found that when someone stood up in the back row, their upper silhouette appeared at the bottom of the screen. Alas, during quieter moments in the film, he could detect sound penetration from the back-to-back IMAX cinema. Whilst Empire One used to suffer sound penetration from the erstwhile Mecca Ballroom below, this was, I believe, only really noticeable from the front section of the stadium. On account of George Cole’s lovely Empire being itself built on the first floor of the complex, optimum sound-proofing between the two new cinemas would probably involve the kind of weight the Empire’s ‘60s floor was never designed to support.

Should Odeon decide to incorporate an isense auditorium within their flagship, I expect it would be less of a problem to deal more successfully with the consequent acoustics as they would have the original, intact theatre to work with rather than a conversion.

CF100
CF100 on August 1, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Empire have finally posted some snapshots of both screens on their Facebook page.

CF100
CF100 on July 25, 2014 at 10:52 am

IMAX have finally uploaded Part 2 of their Empire Leicester Square featurette—shows the projectors/screen speakers/screen being installed, and lots of views of the auditorium.

michaelbrent
michaelbrent on July 11, 2014 at 7:21 pm

I’ve uploaded some more pictures of the IMAX auditorium, but haven’t yet been able to take any of the IMPACT Screen, has anybody managed to take any pictures of that screen?

CF100
CF100 on June 14, 2014 at 8:37 am

Plans for the conversion are to be found within a Licensing Application to Westminster Council

Looks like it’s possible that some of the tiled walls on the left side wall could be hidden away…

CF100
CF100 on June 2, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Photos of the 1928 Empire Leicester Square…

Foyer areas: Foyer 1 Foyer 2 Foyer 3 Foyer 4

Auditorium: Auditorium

I prefer the 1962 interior but no doubt it was very ostentatious.

CF100
CF100 on June 1, 2014 at 8:52 pm

rasLXR, I completely agree with you as Empire 1 was one of the greatest cinemas ever built, but I also accept that Empire 1 was no longer viable and that the outcome could have been far worse.

Videos of the new auditorium (not mine!): Video 1 Video 2

rasLXR
rasLXR on June 1, 2014 at 7:07 pm

“The renderings bear the logo of UNICK Architects”

Takes someone with ball’s to gut the old Empire.

CF100
CF100 on May 31, 2014 at 10:28 am

Looking at the photos of the IMAX auditorium and comparing to Empire 1, it seems to me that the false walls/ceiling in the circle section were mostly not gutted out but retrofitted with acoustic material/black fabric covering. This wasn’t clear from the renderings Empire posted, in which they looked slightly different. The seating area there is slightly narrower, and an extra row has been added at the back.

The renderings bear the logo of UNICK Architects, who I assume were involved in this project.

Incidentally, according to my ticket, the Empire has regained a Screen 3—the IMAX screen.

rasLXR
rasLXR on May 30, 2014 at 9:36 pm

Bearing in mind i’m talking 1999 IMAX went much further than the THX installations you could only use Sonics sound systems for example and all materials were approve and the set up of the projection room including a positive air pressure inside the projection areas to stop dust coming in when doors were opened, possibly less important with digital projection than for film however with the size of the images involved it may still be a requirement just less surfaces for dust to get on.

CF100
CF100 on May 30, 2014 at 8:50 pm

rasLXR, many thanks for the replies! I assume that, for example, like THX certified screens, IMAX has standards for auditorium noise levels—I certainly couldn’t hear any HVAC noise or any sound leakage from the adjacent IMPACT auditorium (keeping in mind the screens are “back to back.”)

While the Leicester Square THX certified screens had excellent sound, I’ve been to some (e.g. the Hoyts Cinema at Bluewater, before it became a Showcase) that were unimpressive. No way of knowing if they were operating to spec on the day of visit though; I imagine that IMAX auditoria benefit immensely from the daily calibration/quality control of picture/sound. In the UK I’ve only visited the BFI IMAX and the PEPSI IMAX, and with all the “Lie-MAX” potshots out there, it would certainly be good to hear that the other new IMAX installations are of the same standard.

rasLXR
rasLXR on May 30, 2014 at 8:02 pm

“In my view, unlike the IMPACT auditorium, they really have got it right—accepting that it’s a automated digital cinema—this really is a flagship “West End” cinema with the attention to detail you’d expect!”

IMAX control and approve everything they provide all the specifications for an IMAX theatre and sign everything off approved before work starts. Was a bit of an effort to get them to sign off the large windows to the projection room at the BFI Imax, in fact the IMAX projector at BFI on installation projects through special glass which was not fireproof and had to have a fire shutter installed as in the old nitrate days.

rasLXR
rasLXR on May 30, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Because of dust once everything is in place and settled the screen arrives and is installed and sprayed in situ.

CF100
CF100 on May 30, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Photos of the IMAX Auditorium:

Red Lighting

Green white? lighting; better capture of ceiling detail

Red lighting — opposite side wall

These were the best I could do with staff milling about. I also have photos showing green and blue lights, but of very poor quality.

CF100
CF100 on May 30, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Having visited the IMAX auditorium today to see “Edge of Tomorrow,” I can say that the Empire Leicester Square is back as the premier cinema in the West End! It’s all there—the auditorium feels cavernous in height/width, colour-changing concealed lighting (which has now been added at the back of each row of seats), super air conditioning, and a sense of occasion and being transported out of the outside world.

I’ve not been to an IMAX digital screening previously, but the Empire’s installation seems to be top-notch. The DLP projection is very good for what it is; it is well aligned and there was no barrel or “smiley face” distortion which plagues some screens. 3D images are however too dark, and the pixels clearly visible, particularly on text. The picture does not quite fill the screen yet, which is presumably sized for the coming laser projection; although there is no moving screen masking there is relatively little light leakage (although within the projected area black levels were a bit on the high side) and with the image darkened by 3D glasses it is hardly missed. The main feature was “letterboxed” although some of the adverts were not. Presumably thanks to IMAX’s DMR process, the picture was exceptionally consistent from scene to scene in terms of colour, detail and a complete lack of grain/picture noise.

I can’t be sure, but the new concrete floor screed in front of the screen, which I saw during my brief visit a few weeks ago, didn’t yet seem to be covered.

The sound is also as you’d expect from the Empire, being very well tuned, excellent stereo imaging, effortlessly wide dynamic range and “tactile” sub-bass. I almost feel that ATMOS is unnecessary as IMAX’s two rear speakers do a very good job of front-back surround stereo imaging.(IMAX are working on a 9-channel system)

The interior fittings (quality wall coverings, seats, etc.) are mostly identical to the IMPACT auditorium, but the ceiling is also covered with what looks like fabric, presumably concealing acoustic treatment. The acoustics are very good, perhaps not quite dry but the terrible “slap echo” of Empire 1 has been tamed. Only subtle behind seating lighting in the apparently disused side seats (according to the booking page on Empire’s site) are on during the main feature. Unlike the IMPACT auditorium, my seat, although very comfortable, did not recline although I did not find this to be a problem in relation to viewing the screen. Obviously, there are no tabs/curtains.

In my view, unlike the IMPACT auditorium, they really have got it right—accepting that it’s a automated digital cinema—this really is a flagship “West End” cinema with the attention to detail you’d expect!