Empire Cinema

5-6 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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FanaticalAboutOdeon
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
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
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.

CF100
CF100 on August 1, 2014 at 3:55 pm

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

CF100
CF100 on July 25, 2014 at 7:52 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 4:21 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 5:37 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 4:01 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 5:52 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 4:07 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 7:28 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 6:36 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 5:50 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 5:02 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 4:45 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 10:58 am

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 9:25 am

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!

CF100
CF100 on May 25, 2014 at 4:24 pm

The premier screens at the VUE (or rather Warner) West End were multiplex cinema interiors of the time (e.g. “SoundFold” pleated wall coverings), yet were still well designed auditoriums with extra finishing touches (proscenium, attractive curtains, etc.), not to mention the excellent acoustics and air conditioning.

Unfortunately the Empire IMPACT auditorium feels like it’s been jammed into remaining space (front stalls/screen) of Screen 1 and the screen is effectively framed by the sidewalls which is distracting, albeit it still retains some sense of spaciousness due to the high ceiling.

Given the extensiveness of the rebuild, it’s perplexing that it should miss the mark for the sake of a few relatively minor details. It’s a still a good place to see a film but given the ticket prices one should expect no compromise. :–(

Still, I am looking forward to the opening of the IMAX auditorium in a few days.

davepring
davepring on May 23, 2014 at 4:07 am

Empire had promised to post photos of the conversion work on their website and facebook but to date have not.The lack of masking is now unfortunately the norm in most new builds and renovations.

CF100
CF100 on May 19, 2014 at 4:31 pm

That’s interesting. Do you know why the screen the last thing to be installed?

rasLXR
rasLXR on May 19, 2014 at 4:18 pm

The screen is the last thing installed in an Imax.

CF100
CF100 on May 19, 2014 at 12:57 pm

I also managed to sneak a peek into the IMAX auditorium from the main foyer, although did not enter this time. (Carpet was being installed—black with red speckles—so a door was left open for this.) It does not look like the screen as yet been installed.

The foyer doors to the screen now have what looks like “padded leather” attached to the front of them, to add a touch of luxury—but this means there is no window.

There are two large and very fancy looking (backlit?) IMAX signs placed in the foyer, one to the left hand side of the seating area.

CF100
CF100 on May 19, 2014 at 12:37 pm

I saw “Pompeii” at the IMPACT screen today. In case anyone is interested, here’s my notes:

-As expected, access to the IMPACT auditorium is gained by turning right at the top of the vestibule stairs and then left. This leads to a narrow corridor which goes diagonally across the “kink” in the wall and then straight on leading to a door on the left to the auditorium for the stadium seating. The balcony entrance is further up the corridor.

-The door opens into the front left of the cinema, and you can see the edge of the screen frame, which is not flush with the wall.

-The interior features are as follows:

 –Rectangular shaped auditorium with straight side walls. The side walls are mostly covered with stretched black fabric, black carpet towards the floor. The ceiling is a drop-in tile suspended type, flat in the rear of the auditorium, and rises diagonally up towards the top of the screen in the front.
              
                 -Black leather upholstered seats with generous padding. (Memory foam—seems to conform as it heats up?) They do recline back slightly and are quite comfortable, but in my view, aren’t as good as Empire 1’s American Seating Company red upholstered chairs.
              
                 -Red LED concealed lighting at the back of each row of seats, i.e. near the riser up to the next row. Unfortunately, these were left on for the entire duration of the main feature! (The ceiling lights were dimmed to completely off.)
              
                 -Aside from the aisles (red carpet), each the floor of each row has wooden stripped flooring, with the seat number marked on the floor in square cutouts. These appear to be stuck on; some were already starting to peel off!
              
                 -The balcony starts above the last three rows of the stadium seating.
              
                 -All of which are to say that the auditorium is effectively a black box and doesn’t look much different to the Basildon screen shown in Basildon screen (without the sidewall light fixtures.)
                

-The screen is large in relation to the auditorium size, and I would guess is about as wide as Empire 1’s screen. I think it has the “new” IMAX 1:9:1 ratio, and therefore “scope” films are “letterboxed.”

 -Not only does the screen lack curtains, but also lacks masking. It is only slightly curved and protrudes out from the front wall; on entering the auditorium, you can see the edge of the frame and the screen material wrapped over onto the back.
                 -The front set of ceiling downlights are too near the screen, causing problems during trailers/adverts before the main feature.
                 -The picture had very poor brightness consistency from the centre out to the edges, looked too much like video projection, and had some barrel distortion.
                

-The sound quality was good, but didn’t seem to be played at reference level, and the sub-bass wasn’t of the same standard as Empire 1. I could feel the floor and seat shake, so it’s possible the stadium seating steps/risers are not solid and as a whole it act as a “bass trap.”

 -The shallow depth of the auditorium compared to Empire 1 does affect the surround sound in the sense that it is more “small scale.” 
              
                 -On the main stadium seating level the rear speakers are JBL, as follows:
              
                      -10xJBL SCS series (not sure which model) – 8 mounted on the rear wall, 2 mounted at the very back of the the side walls. I assume these are used for ATMOS. 
              
                      -10xJBL 9320 on the rear wall. -Not sure if there are side wall speakers hidden behind the black fabric on the walls, but it would be puzzling if not as they are required for ATMOS.
              
                 -I counted 10 ceiling speakers; these are covered with black fabric "grilles", but unlike Empire 1, do not protrude from the ceiling. I assume these are also JBL SCS series, as they are square shaped.
                

-As d8rren found, it was difficult to take photos; ushers were standing by the entrance door at the front left of the auditorium, and there was a “suit” sitting at the back until the main feature. Or rather I should say flash photography was out of the question; I did take a few photos with my smartphone, and the results were dark and blurry.

-I overheard one of the staff members say “better put the music on” and dashed up to the booth to do so! It’s definitely early days.

-Before the main feature, a member of staff spoke using a microphone to welcome us to the new screen, and to say that we should give them feedback afterwards. Which I did, and I’m pleased to say that they made a note of my comments.

All in all not up to what I’d expect from a top West End cinema. It is very early days and no doubt audiovisual problems can be ironed out; the lack of masking is the most serious issue.

However, the lack of “framing” around the screen, I felt, destroyed the “window into another world” experience. I understand that a “real” IMAX screen is immersive because it fills up so much of the field of vision; but I do not think that this IMPACT screen does. In my opinion, such a “stripped down” auditorium design, which throws out all so many traditional elements of good theatre/cinema design, only serves to demonstrate those elements were the standard.

d8rren
d8rren on May 18, 2014 at 1:22 am

No tabs on the screen just a wall to wall ceiling to floor screen wanted to take some photos just on a smart phone but the management all out watching everyone

The balcony was not open as it’s not finished yet