Cineworld Cinema - Leicester Square

5 Leicester Square,
London, WC2H 7NA

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Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on September 18, 2017 at 9:24 pm

Cineworld Leicester Square appears to have dropped the Empire name altogether now. Shameful.

CF100
CF100 on September 10, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Thanks, Zappomatic, for those photos of the access to Screen 9.

What a dreadfully scrappy arrangement with the “wooden box” at the back of Screen 9.

The stairs/lobby areas look pretty good, but the “starfield” is bodged—not remotely comparable to the 1989 fibre-optic starfields in the foyer/Empire 1. There’s some information on them in the Lighting + Sound International article I previously linked to (PDF p19-21):

“Par Opti Projects used no less than 14,000 fibre optic lenses producing 26,000 light points in the ceiling, created by various size fibres. The new Eldon bezels were specifically developed for the four sizes of star lenses, together with twinkle wheels…”

BTW, the “studio” screens use Eomac stretched fabric wall systems—“gold frames by others” according to the PDF linked to from that page.

Wonder when the foyer/associated areas work will commence? I assume at some point they will have to completely close during the works, and looking at their website, Cineworld have performances scheduled through the end of this month.

Sooner the better as I already said my “goodbyes” to the existent foyer—no desire to go through that process again! :–( Thankfully, on my last visit to Screen 1 I had no idea about the impeding conversion—theatreofvarieties' strip-out photos were fascinating, but time (and nice replacement auditoria) heals. It would have been far too emotional to bear.

CF100
CF100 on August 31, 2017 at 2:59 pm

Cjbx11: According to Maeve Contractors, the conversion cost £5m. I saw £4.6m quoted elsewhere.

I’m not convinced by the conversion in terms of gaining the extra screen, but I do think that Empire 1 couldn’t meet today’s expectations—the stalls were too flatly raked, and the circle was too far from the screen—and the “slap echo” made dialogue unintelligible—especially since movie soundtracks, these days, are mixed for acoustically damped small to medium sized rooms.

Please don’t get me wrong, I loved Empire 1, but I can see that it wasn’t perfect.

Added to the above they obtained the IMAX brand on the facade and at present they have the only IMAX with Laser installation in London with the screen size to match. One only has to look at the BFI to see how popular full scale IMAX is.

Empire Cinemas' beneficial owner, Thomas Anderson, was reported to have had problems with debt structuring over in Ireland. Cineworld admit, in their annual report, to paying a very large premium (over their own fair market valuation) to acquire those key sites from Empire Cinemas.

Regarding standards of presentation, I cannot remember the lighting and tabs at my local Odeon, the main screen of which was still OK despite subdivision. But I can say that it wasn’t until the late 1990s that Dolby Digital was installed, and even then the sound was quite poor. JBL rear speakers were installed but who knows what was behind the screen.

I have been to multiplexes on multiple occasions (35mm) where there was a failure to switch lens for the main feature (until I left the auditorium to complain!) and even more times with otherwise sloppy projection such as an out-of-focus picture.

The local Cannons and Coronets, which may well have had tabs, were absolutely dire in all respects.

OTOH, I went to a new multiplex back then and there were no tabs; before the feature, a badly aligned slide projector was used to show still adverts for local businesses. This included the local kebab shop or similar. Absolutely terrible.

Cjbx11
Cjbx11 on August 31, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Whilst I understand the points made by Lionel I’m still not convinced splitting Empire 1 was the correct decision. Firstly the Empire has managed to add a number of extra screens since the 90s and although very small they must certainly help the profitability of the Empire in similar way to the Odeon Studios attached to the Odeon Leicester Square. Secondly I don’t know the exact cost of the conversion but I suspect it was in the millions and it will be many years if ever that the extra revenue from the IMAX screen ever pays for itself. As for the future of cinema I’m not quite as pessimistic as Lionel and his prediction of Burger Kings style cinema and think cinema may actually go upmarket with more cinemas along the lines of Everyman and Picture House as the public look for something better than your average multiplex. The thing that I find most depressing is that the standard of presentation and whole cinema experiance was far better at my old local 1930s Odeon with its drop wall conversion than I have ever seen at the multiplex that replaced it.

CF100
CF100 on August 31, 2017 at 10:51 am

Robert: Thanks for your fascinating recollections of how things were back in the day! By those standards, showmanship and presentation had already declined before I was born.

Empire 1 was my favourite cinema, too. But I always imagined that it couldn’t possibly remain in that form forever. :–(

Robert L. Bradley
Robert L. Bradley on August 31, 2017 at 10:34 am

I agree too, Lionel. I’ve been going to London cinemas since 1967 when I was in the U.S. Army stationed in Germany. It was quite an event flying over to London to see great films at the Warner, Carlton, Dominion, Astoria, and the Classic Cinemas. At the bigger ones, they had an interval after the shorts and trailers, and they had usherettes coming through the aisles wearing trays containing ice cream parfaits and other treats for sale. There was usually a Pathe or Movietone newsreel. And the national anthem was played after the last showing at night. Curtains, flooded in colored light, were used. Now I’m living in the USA and I fly to London a couple of times a year to see movies in nice cinemas. Doing away with Empire Screen 1 was an abomination! It was my favorite cinema. I still like the Odeon Leicester Square, but they usually play the blockbuster films that I’m not interested in seeing. I also like the Prince Charles, and NFT 1 is great. But the showmanship and presentation is sadly a thing of the past.

CF100
CF100 on August 31, 2017 at 10:28 am

Lionel: Interesting that the GM said that to you back then.

In the 1990s, new build multiplex development in London had trailed behind the rest of the country. In parts of London, the only “local” option was a 1930s cinema which typically had become a run down Cannon or Coronet, probably with Altec speakers behind the screen, and, in the largest auditorium, a really bad Dolby Stereo installation, with the smaller auditoria still mono. The environment was very poor with awful subdivisions and lack of upkeep.

If you wanted to see a quality presentation with 5.1 digital audio and particularly in a THX certified screen then the West End was the only game in town.

I remember Empire 1 being very busy at peak times; I knew people at that time with no particular special interest in cinema who would visit the West End for some “blockbuster” movies.

By 2000 or so a number of new multiplexes had opened in London, so this situation had changed. The standard of presentation at these tended to be sub-par, but they were new, clean and had digital sound. More have opened today with further sites in the pipeline.

Around that time the Empire building (5-6 Leicester Sq.) was acquired by London & Regional Properties (from First Leisure, operators of the nightclub that was then below the main part of the cinema.) Currently, AFAIK the building is on a 25 year lease (ending 2030) to the company which owns the casino.

I had expected the building to be demolished by now, and I dare say without the successful casino, it would have been.

I don’t see small auditoria built in “spare” space as negative—do not visit them if you don’t like them? I have not been to the Odeon Mezzanine/Studios in a long time.

I share your concerns over the loss of West End cinema “culture.” Empire Cinemas, I think, very much ran it as the Empire Leicester Sq. and not another multiplex and we shall see if this is sustained under Cineworld.

One of the benefits of an IMAX installation is the quality control including continuous montoring by IMAX, and automatic daily recalibration of picture/sound. Auditoria used for premieres should also benefit from more servicing of projection/sound than the average cinema.

All IMAX screenings are introduced by a member of staff; the Empire IMAX still has colour changing concealed lighting; no tabs but the screen is never simply left blank.

A new laser show would be a great addition. :–(

I sudder to think of watching an 8K screening whilst eating a plastic tasting steak from the awful tourist trap that is an Angus Steak House!

Thankfully, this is not the direction that cinemas are going in, however. Operators are spending a lot of money refurbishing or on new sites with nice foyer areas and “premium large format” screens featuring Dolby Atmos, sometimes laser projection, and more spacious seating. Also, the average new IMAX screen—and they are increasing in number—may be disappointing for someone familar with the “classic” ones, but IMAX Digital is a high quality system—vastly better than the days of the typical multiplex out-of-focus 35mm presentation with medicore audio!

These developments are covered in the “Next Gen Multiplex” feature in the June 2017 issue of Cinema Technology Magazine.

I agree with your comments on the current medicore output of Hollywood. The picture quality, sound and special effects in some of today’s releases is incredible—but the incomprehensible plot and threadbare storytelling makes watching “blockbuster” or “tentpole” films with wall to wall action like going to a theme park. I like theme parks, actually, but it’s not how movies ought to be.

P.S. For me Leicester Square is a nice place to be on a sunny afternoon if it’s not too busy.

terry
terry on August 31, 2017 at 7:03 am

Bravely spoken, Lionel – but I agree with every word you have said!

Lionel
Lionel on August 31, 2017 at 1:18 am

@Cjbx11 There are several aspects to the problem.

When I spoke to the Empire’s general manager in 1993 (UCI back then), he told me that somebody would have to take the decision one day, surely before the year 2000, to split it in two. Well, it took 15 years more to happen, but it happened.

The nineties is when things started to function stupidly in a suicidal way for theatres. The Warner went from 5 screens to 8, the Odeon Leicester Square had the 5-matchbox (it’s not even shoebox) Mezzanine added, Marble Arch was split in 5, and now the Empire itself ended up with more small auditoria. And all theatres are more or less showing the same films. And that’s because of distributors policy : flood every street corner with the same films, so that the customer doesn’t have to walk very long from their tube station to see the film.

And what films! Hollywood crap is getting crappier, as marketing aims exclusively for investment security, so all studios eventually come up with the same films, same structure, same plot baseline and characters display. You now have the feeling to see the same film over and over, and big action/crime/sci-fi movies are not even as half-exciting and original as they were still in the eighties and mid-nineties. Go figure why attendances are dropping everywhere.

I loved to go to West End theatres when I was a kid and student (let’s say from 1980 on to the mid-nineties) but that’s over now. I’m not Brit, I’m a Belgian who enjoy coming to London almost every year since childhood (because my parents had English friends here). Now, I tend to avoid the overcrowded Leicester Square like the plague and films displayed on the big theatre fronts leave me indifferent at such an extent that I wouldn’t even pay a ticket there just to enjoy the big old-style theatre. If I lived in London, I’d probably stick to the Curzon circuit to see the films I like, except perhaps for a Star Wars or a James Bond episode which I still love to see on the big screen.

Add to this, video-on-demand, Netflix, web piracy and distributors policy. In USA major theatre circuits, distributors eat 100% of film revenues during the first two weeks. Theatres would go bankrupt if they didn’t sell popcorn and soft drinks. In 1993, profits from concession stands accounted for 17% of the Empire’s revenues. Distributors are now fighting theatre chains to release films through the Internet the same day they’re released in theatres. How can a theatre be profitable?

There is a solution. In a big city like London, have one theatre like the former single-screen Empire or the former single-screen Odeon Marble Arch. Give it something special : showmanship starting with how the auditorium looks like (lights, style and colors instead of black walls/ceiling/floor/seats giving the impression of watching a film in a mortuary, curtains, who said laser show?), 70mm or 4K, all for the exclusive engagement of a good quality film. With projectionists knowing how to properly adjust picture scaling, screen masking and sound volume. But this will never happen, because it’s against the distributors business model and it requires what theatre circuits no longer have : a culture of West End theatres, which is how Leicester Square cinemas were still run until twenty years ago. Now they are run like suburban shopping malls.

This is how I see the future of cinemas : theatres as we know them will all close. Burger King, Pizza Hut and Angus Steak House will install a screen hanging from the ceiling. Of course, projectors will be 8K and there will be a powerful subwoofer under each table. So powerfool that clients will go vomit their dinner in the new laser-aligned toilets.

Cjbx11
Cjbx11 on August 30, 2017 at 7:02 pm

I’m really not a fan of this cinema at all. The old Empire 1 was a great cinema but the IMAX screen I find uncomfortable and strangely clostraphobic. After my last visit (which will probably be my last visit) I’ve never been so glad to leave a cinema. I would also question the economic argument for converting this cinema to IMAX. When you consider the many months of closure and loss of revenue plus the huge cost of this conversion caused by the major structural problems I think it will be many years before this conversion comes close to showing a profit. Maybe that’s why the previous owners were glad to offload it. I do feel bitter about it as what was a truly unique cinema has been replaced by something that could really have been built anywhere.

CF100
CF100 on August 25, 2017 at 5:03 pm

Given the Cineworld rendering, this photo ought to give an idea of what the walls of the new foyer might look like:

Cineworld corridor photo

(I am not sure what location this is, as the text overlay on the image ‘slideshow’ says that it’s at the ‘Resort World at the NEC Birmingham,’ but the filename says ‘Milton Keynes.’)

The interior design of this and other sites seems to be constructed from the ‘parts bin’ of Cineworld’s current ‘house style.’ Note that the linked image is on the website of Lyons + Sleeman + Hoare Architects, and it turns out that Cineworld have their own in-house architects also.

Cineworld’s ‘next generation’ foyer/corridors are looking good. If only their auditorium designs were more interesting than, say, a black box with an illuminated red star logo on each side wall!

Zappomatic: Odd indeed, maybe they are getting in there via the ductwork? I hope they offered refunds, or at least a goodwill gesture, to customers attending ridiculous ‘trapped fly’ screenings!

IIRC operators have had to come up with their own ‘ad hoc’ solutions for projection cabinets in ‘boothless’ auditoria, but off the shelf products are now becoming available.

The seats in the IMAX and IMPACT/Superscreen are from Seating Concepts. I have to wonder if the seating business has entered a race to the bottom using commodity parts sourced from China. Products from different manufacturers look very similar but don’t appear to be of real commerical ‘heavy duty’ spec.

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on August 25, 2017 at 10:34 am

Yep, flies! The smaller studio type screens all have their projector in a little box slung from the ceiling at the back, and on at least three occasions I’ve experienced a fly trapped inside casting a blurry shadow on the screen every time it flew around. Going by complaints on social media it’s a recurring issue, particularly in screen 8 for some reason.

Sagging padding aside I still prefer the seats Empire installed in the IMAX and Impact/Superscreen here over the Lino Sonego seats Cineworld are putting in their large format screens – they look the part but aren’t especially comfortable.

CF100
CF100 on August 24, 2017 at 3:08 pm

Thanks (as well) Lionel for those photos, I have fond memories of those days!

Indeed there is nothing like the 80s! The fibre-optic ‘starfields’ were a wonderful addition, though not all the changes to the foyer were in good taste…

Zappomatic: They will sort out the seats; I didn’t explicitly ask about the timeframe or press for more details, but I got the impression that they plan on a full refurb of all auditoria. Not making ‘band-aid’ changes to seating upholstery may suggest that it will all be changing.

The Cineworld interim report shows that they have phased overhauls of all sites acquired from Empire, so at this point it could be next year, I’d guess?

The seats in the IMAX auditorium aren’t as comfortable as they were when new; the padding seems to have sagged a bit. I’m not sure their quality is better than my own ‘premium’ (but not ‘uber-expensive’) office chair—super comfortable when new but merely comfortable enough after a while!

Flies in the projection enclosures?! Silhouettes on the screen?

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on August 24, 2017 at 11:16 am

Thank you CF100 and Lionel for those photos, great to compare the old and the current. They certainly went with a blingy, in your face look back in the late 80s!

Wonder how long the Empire and Pepsi Max logos will linger on on the seats in IMAX and Superscreen, if Cineworld aren’t touching the other auditoriums just yet?

The smaller auditoriums are generally in good shape, they just need to fix the masking in a couple of them and replace or deep clean the carpet (possibly change the carpet in the rows to a hard surface). And maybe sort out the issue they keep having with flies getting trapped inside the projector enclosures!

Lionel
Lionel on August 24, 2017 at 2:32 am

I’ve just uploaded to Flicker the pictures of the Empire I took in the early nineties (exterior, foyer, auditorium and projection booth). Check the albums here : https://www.flickr.com/photos/153302575@N06/albums

They are not of good quality but for your convenience, they are downloadable, and copyrighted by me because done in the context of a professional work. So please use them only in private, do not modify or redistribute them. I already had to ask a lawyer once to tour all the sites/forums where they had been redistributed by the same person.

CF100
CF100 on August 23, 2017 at 5:58 pm

I have uploaded a few photos of the foyer taken today.

In particular, this one shows the dire state of the ceiling, with the further stains, and peeling/missing covering, possibly revealing the original 1962 finish (paint?):

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/912/photos/216889

Whilst that photo has not been post-processed in Photoshop, the others have; as I note in the description of that photo, the ceiling really does look that faded and stained. My other photos are, to a lesser or greater extent, not honest about the ceiling’s condition.

I expected leaving the Empire today to be a sad experience, but the foyer is in such messy, tatty and rapidly deteriorating state, not just the ceiling but also the disjointed collection of permanent and temporary fixtures and changes made over the years, that the shock of it being replaced has worn off. It is very jarring walking from the crumbling foyer into the still-new looking IMAX auditorium.

It needs redoing, so fingers crossed for a replacement that exceeds expectations!

CF100
CF100 on August 23, 2017 at 2:40 pm

I visited the “Cineworld Cinema – at the Empire Theatre” today to see “Dunkirk” in the IMAX auditorium.

I had a conversation with a member of staff who has worked there from UCI, through Empire Cinemas, and now Cineworld operation. They informed me that:

-The 4DX conversion is progressing. Strip-out of Screen 2 has already been completed. They are not sure, but they think that the 4DX conversion will result in the loss of one or more rows of seats to fit in the equipment; it will have fewer seats.

-They confirmed that the foyer “domes” will be lost, and said that whilst they understood the foyer has been around for a long time, it is dated and looking “patchy.” They expressed a positive view on the proposed design and were pleased about the forthcoming refurbishment.

-Asked if changes would be made to other areas, i.e. the rest of the auditoria and in particular the seating, they said that this would not be happening yet as the priority is the 4DX conversion and the foyer refurbishment.

-In response to my concerns over the prospect of it becoming “'a Cineworld multiplex…' it is, after all, the Empire Leicester Square,” they said that “that is the one thing [Cineworld] most definitely do NOT want… they want to keep it… glitzy.”

The IMAX auditorium is looking well cared for, excellent air conditioning, projection was perfect and the sound very good—visceral subbass at times. I have thought that the sound system doesn’t quite have the headroom to cope with the large auditorium and that was evident today; e.g. it sounded like the low frequency content was pushing the drivers to maximum excursion at times.

The IMAX trailer is a variant of this one, but altered to demonstrate the overhead/side speakers with a 3D visualisation of speakers placed around an auditorium, when the voiceover says “and immersive sound, that will surround you from here… here… and here.”

As for “Dunkirk,” it seemed to me to skip over Acts 1 and 2 and launched straight into Act 3 resulting an incomprehensible mess. Lovely photography and, as mentioned, impressive sound.

The 1.4:1 IMAX segments did not seem to quite reach the top of the screen but I assume were <1.9:1 as the screen is 1.7:1 and the laser projectors are capable of 1.4:1.

The odd scratch mark and other tale-tell signs could be seen uncorrected, so I assume Nolan didn’t allow IMAX to put the material through a heavy-handed DMR process. I shall leave an analogue vs. digital discussion at that, but it should be obvious which side of the fence I firmly sit on!

Report on foyer condition and photos to follow.

P.S. Large Diet Coke was £3.99. :–(

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on August 22, 2017 at 10:07 am

Ah I stand corrected! But yes your description of the access to screen 6 is correct and involves making a bit of a sharp turn, as well as confidence that you really are taking a door from the foyer to a screen and won’t suddenly find yourself standing in a yellow puddle in the street.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 21, 2017 at 8:23 pm

Nope. You will still need some vomit smell repellent. It is Leicester Square after all.

CF100
CF100 on August 21, 2017 at 8:12 pm

Nice!

That’s actually the front left fire exit from the IMAX auditorium—which incidentally is in the same location as the wall between the IMAX and the IMPACT/Superscreen auditoria.

BTW, if you go to the “old” Street View images (by clicking on the clock icon in the top left hand corner) and change the date to May 2014, you can see it’s been left open as the IMAX was being finished.

The exit you’re looking for is this: http://goo.gl/mYBPSD

Having a quick look at the licensing application plans, it seems access to Screen 6 involves going down the stairs of one fire exit, and, when near the external doors, going through another door to the second fire exit, and then up the stairs to the auditorium! Ridiculous…

I’d guess, then, that the lack of replacement finishes and the use of non-permanent signage, i.e. bits of paper (!), one way or the other has something to do with building regulations or (avoiding) building control approval, albeit there are plenty of Class 0 fire retardant materials to choose from…

Perhaps Cineworld can smarten it up with intumescent flame retardant paint and a few bottles of smell “munching” enzymes!

Al Alvarez: Does that work?!

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on August 21, 2017 at 7:29 pm

Diluted day-old Coca-Cola. The cologne of theatre managers.

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on August 21, 2017 at 7:16 pm

Here is the exterior of the fire exit that leads out from the stairs to screen 6: https://goo.gl/maps/9vkhJdKJtRA2 – note the lovely streaks of liquid running down the pavement (I think you can guess what it is)!

Whereas the stairs to 7-9 have plush wall coverings and quite theatrical lighting, the stairs to screen 6 are lit by standard fluorescent dome lights on the walls with some of the directional signage provided by bits of A4 paper (seriously).

CF100
CF100 on August 21, 2017 at 3:51 pm

I haven’t been to Screen 2 since the mid-90s—and that was only because, until I bought the ticket, I’d not realised the film I wanted to see had moved over from Screen 1! An awful auditorium.

It is curious that, if the floor can be lowered, that it hasn’t been done to date? It will be interesting to see just how much they are able to lower it by.

I, too, think that the stairs up to screens 7/8/9 are nicely decorated. I have not been to screen 6 and I’m surprised that the staircase is as you describe? I suspect the “urine” whiff actually emanates from the toilets!

It’s understandable that Cineworld want to rebrand and to my mind the stair/lobby areas for public auditorium access from the main foyer are a blank slate for them. I do not believe that because something was there first it automatically acquires some sort of mystical primacy, but I think it’s worth noting that the “domes” in the 1962 foyer seem to me to be a nod to the original 1927 interior.

I am concerned that without due care they will end up with the Empire looking like a run-of-the-mill multiplex with no attention paid to its “DNA.” They are, after all, going to be removing marble from the right vestibule wall… replacement finishes had better be up to standard!

Zappomatic
Zappomatic on August 21, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Interesting! So the stadium conversion by Empire that resulted in the back rows being uncomfortably close to the ceiling will all be undone after a mere five years or so.

I actually quite like the decor on the stairs to screen 2 and the upper screens, which feels quite classy and is still in good condition (apart from the staircase to screen 6 with grubby wallpaper, cheap lighting and a delightful whiff of urine from the fire exit doors!).

CF100
CF100 on August 20, 2017 at 8:37 pm

Building Control entry (dated as received on 17th August 2017) for the Foyer and 4DX works is up on Westminster Council’s website.

To quote:

“Refurbishment of the public areas of the lobbies and cinema #2 located in the basement of Cineworld at Leicester Sq (previously Empire) for the conversion into a 4DX cinema.

“The refurbishment of the lobbies will include: – Demolition of existing floors, ceiling and wall finishes at ground floor lobby and public access to upper levels.

“The works will include: Breaking of the lower level concrete slab of the room and rebuild at a lower level to increase the space required for the system and new seating arrangement. Installation of suspended trusses between the columns which will support the equipment for the 4D effects (wind fans, water spray tanks, snow machine, fog machine) – Removal of all projector and installation of new one at the back of the room, in the former projection booth. – New floor, wall and ceiling finishes – New finishes at the access staircase and lobby. – All fire escapes remain unchanged”

So there you have it—how to convert Screen 2 to 4DX!

Agent name is listed as Chapman Taylor, a large architectural practice, who it turns out were responsible for the 4DX auditorium at Cineworld Wandsworth, as well as the rest of the Cineworld Wandsworth refurb.