Empire Cinema

5-6 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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70mmbobbyj on September 12, 2014 at 9:59 am

Digital is so good that a cinema owned by Quentin Tarintino in LA had had a digital projector installed by the person running it. When Q T took over full control he visited the projection booth and saw the digital projector he said “ I want that out of here, this is a 35mm house”. Also this so called laser projection it will still mean the the Empire is “lie Max” as the screen is wider than it is tall{1.9:1 not 1.4:1}

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on September 12, 2014 at 9:11 am

The LIEMAX element, digital or not, is most evident in New York City where one screen is eight stories high and the one down the street is twenty feet high. Both charge the same price and are branded as IMAX.

CF100 on September 12, 2014 at 8:32 am

A more useful note: I can confirm that there is some sound leakage from the IMPACT auditorium in the IMAX auditorium. However, it was only audible when there was no audio playing (after the main feature had ended) and it was a distant rumble, which must have been at peak levels. I have heard similar in VUE West End Screen 7, so I would guess “THX” requirements for inter-auditorium sound leakage would be met.

CF100 on September 12, 2014 at 8:31 am

The critical feature of IMAX is not the aspect ratio, it’s the horizontal and vertical viewing angles. (Size as well, to a point—sitting up close to a 15" laptop screen isn’t the same.) The Empire’s screen roughly falls well within those requirements, the auditorium is about 1 screen width deep, and any central seat is certainly very immersive.

Also, the screen height is within the range of IMAX GT venues (albeit at the bottom end), and the width (87.5ft) is far greater than many, the smallest is 71ft wide.

As for the projection, the entire industry has transitioned to digital and IMAX isn’t immune to that transition; furthermore the use of film for shooting purposes is rapidly diminishing. IIRC they had a replacement digital projection system in development, but it didn’t work out and they ended up using DLP projectors. The other risk, of course, is that eventually the rest of the industry would have digital projectors capable superior quality to 15/70.

The DLP projectors do surprisingly well in the Empire, and are perfectly aligned, but of course we wait laser projection. The lack of masking isn’t an enormous problem as there’s not much light leakage, in 3D it’s almost black. (I did, however, find it to be a serious problem in the Empire’s IMPACT auditorium.)

The Empire (and Chinese) have been reconstructed for the laser system, DLP is only a stopgap. Even so, the picture and sound as it stands, as Dave Pring says, are both superb and the conversion is excellent.

So the real question, which awaits a definitive answer, is does the IMAX laser projection system match 15/70? If it does, then there’s nothing “Lie"MAX about the Empire. As for the resolution—the “real world” resolution of 15/70 as projected is not the same as the potential resolution.

If the IMAX laser projection is, as IMAX claim, superior to competing products, then surely Empire have actually done the right thing to ensure that their flagship auditorium is equipped with the very best?

There wouldn’t be so many “tentpole” IMAX releases now if they had not expanded via “scaled down” venues; the problem, I think, is taking it too far. Perhaps the laser projection system will give IMAX the chance to do some differentiation among between different venues, presumably they will want to shout from the rooftops about it.

rasLXR on September 12, 2014 at 7:25 am

Business I suppose, great as IMAX films are I doubt the Empire or the chinese would have been converted to screen them. There were few IMAX screens around that were not associated with theme parks or museums a few years back. Now they are everywhere perhaps also diluting the brand.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on September 12, 2014 at 6:35 am

Don’t blame Empire, blame IMAX. They have sold out their brand and ruined a once wonderful concept.

davepring on September 12, 2014 at 6:24 am

The only masked Imax is the Chinese in Hollywood as far as I know which also retains curtains.

rasLXR on September 12, 2014 at 5:40 am

IMAX screens have never had masking. Have you not heard film as a projection format has been replaced. Conventional films screened in IMAX have never been projected in the IMAX aspect ratio.

70mmbobbyj on September 12, 2014 at 4:14 am

It’s called “lie max” because it’s not TRUE IMAX. It is “digital” has an aspect ratio of 1.9:1, TRUE IMAX has a ratio of 1.4:1. Therefore the screen should be nearly square not oblong. Also TRUE IMAX uses 15/70mm film for ultimate picture quality. It’s been done because it’s cheaper and when you put the word “digital” in front of something people think it’s better !!!. The screens have no masking and this spoils the viewing pleasure. It is like watching a scope film on an old 4:3 tv, with unused screen on show. Consider this a digital movie camera has 59 million mega pixels.To make a camera to equal a 70mm film camera it would have to have around 8000 million mega pixels. I like to call lie max a poor man’s 70mm.

davepring on September 12, 2014 at 12:05 am

Your Liemax comments are completely unjustified…have you actually sat in the IMAX auditorium???.Empire have done a superb job on converting the former circle and the sound and picture quality are superb on the second largest screen in London.

CF100 on September 2, 2014 at 3:28 pm

There’s a number of newsreel footage (British Pathé) clips on YouTube which feature the foyer/lobby areas of the 1928 Empire. These two, though, are a bit different:

Views of the 1928 auditorium (skip to 2:50 on…) and stage and…

Foyer/lobby areas of the 1962 Empire, in 1964…

Very familiar, but some of the decor, fit-out and fixtures have changed considerably!

CF100 on August 7, 2014 at 9:14 am

Sadly, we can’t pull out a magic genie from nowhere to grant our wishes, can we? It’s not that I (or presumably anyone else) don’t share your disappointment and sadness over this, but it’s happened… Love or loathe it, to say the least it’s a heck of a lot better than, for example, my old local inexpensively twinned Odeon, long closed now… looks very nice in photos taken back in 1930… but in my time an absolute flea-pit!

CF100 on August 7, 2014 at 7:17 am

Of course it will never be the same and I would far preferred Empire 1 to have been kept, albeit with a bit of a makeover (new acoustic absorption on walls/ceiling, seating reupholstered, etc.)

I’m heartbroken but I also try to maintain a balanced perspective. So, what were the alternative options? Keeping Empire 1 wasn’t one of them as it’s a commercial operation. Strip out and conversion to another Casino floor? Another hotel? I can think of many worse outcomes than what’s happened and I’ve been expecting something to happen to Empire 1 for years.

Believe me and everyone else who are big fans of Empire 1, and were horrified when it was closed for subdivision, the IMAX auditorium is very impressive and comfortable, it is a great place to see a film, obviously not greater than the “cathedral” that was Empire 1 but still excellent, the online photos and videos don’t really do it justice.

CF100 on August 6, 2014 at 7:17 pm

The cinema has hardly come down to a low level, Empire 1 was long overdue for an overhaul with sagging seats, tired looking tiles and serious problems with dialogue intelligibility due to the excessive reverb time/slap echo. The subdivision is regrettable indeed and it would have be nice to keep the THX baffle wall/JBL sound system, but by sheer chance, the old rear circle dating back to 1928 has made for an excellent IMAX auditorium. For the most part, it seems that Empire Cinemas have gone out of their way to preserve what they could of Screen 1 and have waited for a suitably grand scheme. There could have been really horrendous outcomes, such as the circle being subdivided down the middle!

IMHO it’s one of the best screens in the country. The IMAX projectors and DMR’d picture is an upgrade, the laser projector is on the horizon, and, yes, no Dolby Atmos but it does sound very good, we’ll just have to wait for IMAX to introduce their new sound system.

A quick look at Empire’s IMAX booking page shows that an evening screening of “Guardians of the Galaxy” has a high percentage of seats reserved in advance.

CF100 on August 6, 2014 at 6:51 pm

FanaticalAboutOdeon, thanks for the structural information, very interesting. Another other option I can think of is to use the rear circle as one auditorium, and the Royal Circle as the balcony along with the front stalls to form another, perhaps increasing the rake of the front stalls. As with the Empire IMAX this might yield difficult viewing angles from the side seats, but presumably e.g. columns could be used to support the dividing wall if required.

One would hope that if a completely new auditorium block was on the cards then the recent refurbishment of the Mezzanine/Studios would not have occurred, as it would have been better to concurrently replace it with less compromised auditoria!

davepring on August 6, 2014 at 11:55 am

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

FanaticalAboutOdeon on August 3, 2014 at 11:35 am

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 on August 3, 2014 at 8:33 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 on August 3, 2014 at 8:33 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 on August 2, 2014 at 9:01 am

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 on August 2, 2014 at 3:55 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 on August 2, 2014 at 3:03 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 on August 1, 2014 at 6:24 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 on August 1, 2014 at 5:09 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.