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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!
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.
Details of the planning permission are up on Westminster Council’s site via the above linked page. More than £5m of contributions, for Crossrail, “public realm,” affordable housing, etc. are required per the S106 agreement!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Empire have finally posted some snapshots of both screens on their Facebook page.
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.
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…
Rumour posted on a forum which states that the OLS is likely to be converted into two screens.
Photos of the 1928 Empire Leicester Square…
I prefer the 1962 interior but no doubt it was very ostentatious.
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!):
Behind screen/screen installation photos
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, 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.
Photos of the IMAX Auditorium:
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.
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!
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.
The exterior of the VUE West End is a disgrace; in the Warner days (post 90s rebuild) it was an attractive and welcoming beacon with modern elements woven into the original façade.
A few days ago I entered the ground floor foyer and could not see any obvious way to interact with staff selling tickets (maybe they sell them at the concession stand like Empire Cinemas?) nor was there any information on showtimes other than by using the electronic ticketing machines.
On a recent trip to Croydon, I had a quick look inside the Grant’s Entertainment Centre. The main lobby for the VUE situated within is on the top floor, but there are ticket offices on the floor below. These were also closed, with not even a sign to say where tickets could be purchased from; at least the showtimes were posted on the wall. (I have otherwise never visited that cinema and certainly the lobby on the top floor was busy with people queuing for the concession stands.)
I have not seen any screenings at the VUE West End in a couple of years but last time (Screen 7) the picture and sound was still very good, though the seats needed to be reupholstered or replaced and IIRC one of the ceiling tiles at the back was pushed up slightly for wiring! I imagine it has further deteriorated since then?
That’s interesting. Do you know why the screen the last thing to be installed?
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.
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.
The IMPACT screen opened yesterday (16th May) and is playing “Pompeii”.
The Auditorium Information page confirms Dolby Atmos as a feature, and also the following:
277 Luxury Stadium Style Seats.
99 Luxury Balcony Seats (Over 18’s ONLY).
22 Bean Bags” (Ugh!—and since when did Bean Bags count as seats?!)
Looking at the seat booking page, the auditorium has equal numbers of seats on each row so presumably is rectangular in shape, and there are only 3 rows of “balcony” seats. (10 rows of “stadium” seats.) There appears to be a complete lack of centre aisles!