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This theater originally opened around Fall 1985. It was built in a then new shopping center across the street from what was Freestate Mall. Keep in mind these aren’t huge malls like Tysons or Springfield, or Landover or Annapolis. While the mall tried to get anchors, none were larger then the Safeway grocery store that was there until the place was razed for the open shopping center that is currently built now.
I recall there was a poster of the venue on the side where Safeway anchored the mall. It was originally called Showcase, the Circle Theaters suburban brand name. The theater had six theaters with only one auditorium that had stereo. On the poster ad it touted 70mm capability, probably the one with the surround speakers, which I’m guessing was #5 or #4. On the marquee after the name, one could see what was booked in the stereo theater as it had the Dolby symbol.
When you entered, there was a corridor with the auditoriums on the left and right. There was this what I’d call a ‘grand’ carpeted stairway that probably led up to the projection booths upstairs. Given the size occupied by the auditoriums, it would be reasonable to assume the upstairs must’ve been quite big. No balconies, of course, but who knows..maybe they could’ve been built in but were not.
I remember seeing Commando (1985), with my Mom’s relative’s daughter (I forget how she’s related now). The movie was violent and had those Arnold zingers. The James Horner score I recall had Carribean elements that could be heard surroundly. :)
In 1986, I saw Little Shop of Horrors with my older brother. We then snuck into see Star Trek IV, which was a disappointment being in mono. After experiencing it in 70mm THX at the then new Multiplex Cinemas and at the KB Montgomery Mall in 70mm, it was quite a let down aurally. I remember leaving before the movie was over and then being caught by the Manager for sneaking in. My brother was mortified and embarrassed. My explanation to the Manager at the time, was that I was curious about the technical aspects of the auditorium compared to the stereo one (which is partly true). As she went to call Security or the police, we ran out. My brother was pissed at me for talking him into it as he was about to start his Seminary education. :)
In 1994 or so, the stereo theater got DTS. I recall they were advertising the fact they were playing the Jurassic Park II trailer in DTS, which was basically the T-Rex THUMP…THUMPTHUMP.. THUMP THUMP THUMP in deep bass and vibration and the foot impression of the T-Rex.
I dragged my parents to see Jurassic Park II when it did open here in DTS. My Dad complained it was too loud and that I was to blame for his good ear becoming deaf. Yeah. The experience, even in DTS, was nothing compared to the DTS THX experience I remember watching the original Jurassic Park movie in Hollywood. Mom fell asleep. :)
When the Hoyt multiplex opened in ‘96/'97 (now run by Regal), this venue was pretty much deserted. Though I believed it could’ve made a decent $1 movie house or second run discounted place, its demise was only a matter of time. Across from the theater, there was an arcade and pizza place, so it was a decent place to get together for a meal and a movie for its time.
Come to think of it, they could’ve ran counter programming to the Hoyt/Regal mplex booking foreign movies, documentaries and such that you’d see in a Landmark Theater today. There weren’t Landmark-type venues back then. Just my 2c.
VFX= Visual Effects, Howard. You’re right about it not being filmed in 65mm. What I was trying to say is that the Visual Effects Supervisor, Doug Trumbull, was known to film visual effects in 65mm. 2001, this film, Star Trek and Blade Runner’s VFX were shot in 65mm..done by Trumbull.
I was thinking about seeing the CE3K rerelease at the Uptown but judging by the posts, the venue isn’t what it used to be nowadays. :(
The auditorium appears to be the same size but I could swear the screen has a slight curvature to it now but am not sure. There are led-type lights attached to the speakers in the ceiling. The side speakers are turned in but angular facing the audience. I was thinking before they were just flat on the walls. The seats are the new faux leather recliners and the swing out enumerated trays. Very nice. Cup holders hold their largest drink. I know since I used it :P
They play the Dolby cinema trailer. No 7.1 sound trailer like #6. I’m guessing there wasn’t time. There wasn’t a BTX trailer though I don’t know if one exists. The sound is loud and booming, screen is clear with no artifacts. They played the Blade Runner 2049 trailer and it blows the AFIs 70mm version away. Jared Leto’s character looks more menacing in the 4K crispness but he’s too good looking to believe as the bad guy. Tuesday $10 prices is a bargain. As feared, the normal adult price is now $15 :P
The movie seemed squished. The spaceship didn’t look quite right because of the seemingly squeezed picture. John Williams score comes through stirringly but not modern day crisp. The soundtrack is clear no doubt but its as if you’re listening to an old fashioned LP. Having not seen it in its original release, I can’t say if its better now then it was then. I’ll defer to the comments of others who have seen it in 70mm in its original release. I’m wondering with the recent NEW films in 70mm, why they didn’t just re-release it in fresh 70mm prints. I could be wrong but since Trumbull filmed the VFX in 65mm, I’m thinking they may have transferred over to the actual 70mm release print instead of being blown up from 35mm.
Lastly, the THX plaque that proudly centered the entrance wall is down, hopefully temporarily, while they continue construction. :)
I finally caught ‘Dunkirk’ in 70mm. Looking at the showtimes, it appears they run it in digital during the week, automated probably and run it 70mm with a projectionist on the weekends or evening shows?
Customer Service is lacking. No greet either at the box office, upon entering or at the concession stand. I was going to order something at the concessions and was looking at the menu for my favorite stuffed pretzels and just got stares. I just left. The movie was about to start anyway.
This time I sat closer to the screen instead of my usual comfy spot in the back to get that full immersion experience. Bad idea. The flight shots made me a little dizzy. I was not feeling so good after the show. They had the curtain open throughout. Bad. At least I thought they’d close it before the previews.
Speaking of previews, they showed the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 and Justice League. It looked like film as there were the usual spots and artifacts inherent to film projection. Being the best house, I was hoping the film would play on the louder side with the appropriate BOOMs and shakes but I didn’t feel anything. In fact, my experience at BowTie’s refurbished Annapolis Mall BTX 4K #1 was a LOT better.
As far as the film experience, it was like the other Silver 70mm presentations. All the sound seemed up front. I was hoping for some directional sound at least from the fighter planes whizzing and the bullets firing. Even the end credits walking back, no sound from the other speakers. For those who have seen it this way, correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe the low attendance resulted in them not flipping all the sound switches.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I could’ve sworn when I saw the Master, there was a slide presentation or little video about the differences between 35mm and 70mm film and the experience. Looking at the audience in attendance, the younger people (younger than me anyway) would probably not know, much less appreciate the difference.
For an archival organization like AFI, you’d think they’d be able to use one of those 70mm trailers presentation trailers. On the other hand, if you’ve got wide film directors like Tarantino and Nolan utilizing 65mm, no one younger then that group is going to know or appreciate it. May as well buy the movie and watch it on your iPhone/Pad. Why not make a new 70mm trailer with sound?
Looking at the total box office grosses, it seems Dunkirk is doing well. Perhaps, we’ll see more 70mm but if its all like this, I’d rather go see it in 4K Digital even if its IMAX-lite. I can’t believe I’m saying it.. ;)
Overall, I was a little underwhelmed with the Dunkirk experience at the AFI Silver. It wasn’t worth the drive for sure and the lack of customer service doesn’t help either. While I believe in the AFI and its mission on film preservation and all that, on the business end of showing films at this location its just not there.
I caught ‘Birth of the Dragon’ in the remodeled #6. The new faux leather seats are quite comfortable though not as wide as Brandywine. They have numbered swing out trays for what I assume will be table side service. With the new seat installs, there is reduced capacity. The seats have that flip switch on the left that extends the foot rest. I’m just wondering how soon it will take for these seats get broken.
Unfortunately, it appears they didn’t do anything with the screen. With the decent sightline and raised floor level, one would think a larger, immersive screen would’ve sealed the deal even in this smaller auditorium. They played the Dolby 7.1 trailer but the sound didn’t seem as strong as before. Not sure if it was just a volume thing or the plusher, larger seats may be more sound absorptive?
The movie was quite good. I had missed seeing what I wanted to see but was pleasantly surprised how this movie turned out. The fighting styles show its influence on more recent flicks such as Star Wars and the Matrix series.
I forgot to post I saw ‘La La Land’ back in Jan or Feb. It was not as good as I had hoped. The sound was underwhelming in #4 as if it were muffle. Disappointing. Story was not engaginig but Gosling and Emma Stone make a pretty couple.
Upgrades like seats are nice, but they do need to do something with the sound…larger curved screens? :) I suspect prices will go up, too.
There was a news report on the local news station WTOP that this venue was to be shut down by Sept 30. Someone had put up a website to stop it with an online petition. Reportedly, the Smithsonian wants to expand the restaurant by getting rid of the theater.
With all the money spent on upgrades to laser, one would think they would’ve thought about this before shutting it down. What a waste.
I thought I put a comment on seeing Star Wars Episode II way back in the early 00s or 2003 :P I remember after the opening crawl and the camera slow pans down to Coruscant, the audience just went ahhhhh because of the vastness it all..planet, space and ships. Very immersive. Also, they had to trim the movie to make it all fit. We won’t talk about the bad acting, but it was still a lot of fun.
According to the AFI Calendar, Dunkirk will open 7/21 in 70mm. There are no showtimes listed. I suppose they will be hiring a projectionist for the event.
I saw 70mm listings for Wonder Woman in southern California. It would’ve been nice if they had booked it here. I suspect the Regal’s proximity prevented them from that.
Gore Vidal is presenting Alien in honor of the passing of John Hurt. I remember the 2004 or 5 Director’s digital cut they released. I suspect that will be what they will show. Didn’t know Vidal was still around. I remember his Creature Feature show on Channel 20 waaaay back. :)
I was aware this place existed but its nowhere I’d like to go to in DC. No one has visited here, yet? I imagine its like the other Landmarks.
I agree with you, David. An interesting name. One I would have not chosen. Perhaps, the building was a landmark (pardon the pun) for a plumbing company… now long gone? :)
Since I couldn’t get to the IMAX showings, I decided to see Alien: Covenant in D-Box..but on the cheaper Tuesday discounted day. I didn’t realize that there was no 3D release for the movie. Prometheus was quite good in the XD auditorium the last time.
The online seating chart doesn’t really give you a decent sense of where the seats are. I choose the one closest to the screen that wasn’t in the stadium area.
After what seemed like 20 previews, the D-Box trailer played and the seat rumbled and shook to alert me the movie was starting. My initial impression was that the seat movements (shake, vibration and tilting) were annoying. I’m thinking the screen was not immersive in the sense that I’m looking up to the screen. If it had been more on the level..which is why I’m not a great fan of stadium seating, I think the experience could have been better, overall. However, the ending part of the movie is when I forgot about my misgivings and the picture and movements seemed better in synch.
Picture and sound were digital good, however, during pre-show time, it seemed like the right half of the screen was darker. The soundtrack was distinct and clear. The appropriate sounds came out of the front left, but in the temple scene the constant water flow sounded more like a guy taking a whizzz then anything else. :)
For $13, the discounted price is palatable. The regular $20 D-Box price gives one pause for thought. I’m wondering if a different movie, like a space one would be a better experience. I missed a recline feature. Overall, the experience reminded me of the Doug Trumbull tri-feature experience at the Luxor in the 90s. They had minimal sensation but had speakers in the seats, if I recall correctly.
I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 in #9 during a matinee. Very good presentation and sound separation. This is one of the 3 formerly THX cert auditoriums.
They’ve begun upgrades to the left side of the theaters, starting with #1 the big THX house. Looking at the showtimes for the upcoming May blockbusters, it appears the remodeling will not be complete by the end of May. :( I was hoping to see Alien: Covenant in #1 but will probably see it in one of the IMAX-lite venues when it opens.
While the recliner seats are nice in any theater, over time, they will break due to use and abuse. I hope this isn’t a means to jack up admission prices. Ads tout future full food menus. Given the fact, the food court is just downstairs, I wonder about the wisdom of presumably overpriced food at the theater.
I can’t think of the last time I saw a DCP movie at AFI, if ever. Unless, I was feeling nostalgic or curious as to how the movie looks on DCP, I would have avoided seeing it. I can see the economic sense of showing movies in DCP, but I agree with you on classics on film.
I did see the Blu-Ray for the first Star Trek movie, which was disappointing..if that comes close.
The monthly schedule shows a few retrospective titles from 1982. They’ve got Dark Crystal and Blade Runner, again. If they book Gandhi and/or Tootsie, I may want to catch it there again. I’m curious to see how Tootsie would play to a contemporary audience. I enjoyed it on demand the other day and remember the audience laughs at different points in the movie as experienced in a theater.
Howard, how did you hear this?
I had thought they ran films on automated platters, except for archival prints and 70mm that require/demand professional handling.
I, too, have noticed they don’t put film formats anymore on the titles.
Maybe the place is in financial trouble where they can’t afford to hire a projectionist. This is why movie theaters are all digital now, isn’t it?
2016 was a low film/movie watching year for me..first time I missed any/all of the Oscar nominated films. I did see Lala land and fell asleep. lol..more on that later.
Perhaps, Steve can shed some light on the lack of at least a PT projectionist.
It appears AMC has bought this theater back and is running it once again. The AMC website indicates upgrades are coming. With the Rivertowne also back in AMC hands, it all feels like deja vu mid-1980s. :) I’m curious as to why AMC is now having interest in its older divested properties.
Having not been in the bigger theaters since the 1980s, I recall AMC touting curved-like screens called Curvus in them. I am curious to know if they’re still there.
To add to my memories of the place, I remember watching Poltergeist II, in 1986, in one of the bigger auditoriums…probably the same one I saw Top Gun in 70mm. I think the sound format was Dolby Spectral and 35mm. The FX were by Boss Films, done in 65mm. When Carrie Ann ‘crosses over’ her voice is heard all over the place, which was cool. The stop motion of the creature at the end reminded me of the Alien Queen in Aliens in the long shots. Not very scary or original upon viewing.
I believe the last movie I saw in the bigger auditorium was The Bodyguard in ‘92. Nothing remarkable on a technical level. It was pre-digital, no 70mm, BUT to see Whitney Houston in her prime and perform songs on widescreen film was memorable. When the movie goes from present time to the song numbers, the auditorium would fill up with THE VOICE in all its strength and vocal perfection. The Queen of the Night Number at the club scene and the surround noises of the crowd and the instrumental tracks..terrific. The same can be said of the other songs on the track. Listening to the late Whitney Houston’s voice in a movie, probably projected and at the optimum sound level is a theatrical experience, itself.
Caught Star Wars: Rogue One in #1 on a Tues matinee ($6!). Nothing special to report since this is a Star Wars flick and sound effects; explosions, music, dialog were first rate. Picture was sharp, non 3D. Need to see it in IMAX 3D. :)
They have reclining seats in the lobby to inform patrons of an impending remodel. I hope this does not mean a steep price increase. They need to make the screens bigger now. Maybe put in their version of IMAX by combining the end auditoriums.
That sucks. No movie theaters. I assume the new venue will be built on the same spot?
Wow. The venue had a good 25 year run. In my mind it seems like it opened more recently than that.
The ‘new’ IMAX theater doesn’t look that much different than other IMAX installs. Seats don’t appear comfy cozy.
Any pics of the theater that shows the new Billy Lynn movie? Did they remodel that to accommodate the tech upgrades for the movie? Or, is the theater just your standard shoebox auditorium with projector upgrade for the HFR 4K projection? I’m reading the sound is supposedly Atmos or Atmos-like.
First person-type films make the best presentations. Just straight up dramas waste the format, imho, unless you like to count the pores on the actor’s faces or note other detractions. :) My memory of Showscan recalls vivid imagery and sound. The thing is the shorts kept repeating some of the shots over that the ‘newness’ of the hyperrealism causes the magic to wear off.
Darth, it appears so. Check the Smithsonian’s webpage. It states that it opens here on Dec. 18. It should be spectacular. Supposedly, they filmed scenes in IMAX. Hopefully, it should look great here. Enjoy it and the museum exhibits, too. ^5.
The other night I saw the Madea Halloween movie in #1. The sound mix was terrific. At the start of the frat party scene, I could’ve sworn that the people to the left of me were chatting. I kept looking at them and they were silent. After listening more closely, it was the sound effect that the characters onscreen would be experiencing with people talking beyond a wall. The ‘ghostly’ sound effect of someone speaking could be heard rear left and then travel right. The best sound effect was the sudden ‘boom’ thunder clap during the scene when the lights went out. It was a 1-2-3 punch of surround sound multiple effect and deep bass boom for the thunder. After the ‘scare’ I began to think it could’ve been made better with a more thunderous crackle like the real thing.
I think this is the first or second time I’ve seen a Madea movie in the theater. It never really appealed to me much but after seeing the rotation of movies on cable, over the years, and the funny preview, it seemed worth a viewing. I think the frat boys were wrongly cast. They look more like 30something then late teen or early 20something fraternity brothers. Then there’s the preachy subject matter(s) that went too long, imho. As usual, the outtakes during the credits were funny and of the usual flubbed lines and ad libs. :)
I’m not sure but I think this theater was the one that had a very wide screen and was featured in a local news feature(Channel 9?), in 1983, on the opening of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. I’m thinking the feature had stated this was the largest screen in Virginia that was showing the movie but was NOT in 70mm.
Ah hah! Someone must’ve been listening. They have Star Trek: TOS Movie screenings this week at the AFI, but mostly in 35mm and DCP. The Motion Picture is Blu-Ray and is the Director’s Edition. Sadly, no 70mm for anything. The Blu-Ray presentation was underwhelming the first go around even though it was in the Historic Auditorium. III maybe worth a viewing in 35mm. I can’t believe I’m saying that after all the years of complaining about scratched and mishandled 35mm film prints at the local megaplex. Maybe its a studio vault print. Then again, why not the 70mm, if its a vault print. :P Decisions, decisions. To boldly go, or not.
Movie, no recliners like AMC. Maybe one day? The back of the original auditorium has very comfortable wide seats and space for your cups and a food item.
I enjoy the rear seating in the original, but lose that sound envelopment unless I’m sitting closer even though its a THX cert auditorium. I’m thinking that many shows just aren’t played loud enough for my taste. I can’t remember the last time they played the THX trailer, probably in the 00s and the Life sound trailer. Then again, I haven’t visited this year, yet, maybe they’ve got the newest space one. :)
Thats a nice shade of red, Howard. Nice picture ^5.
What was the color of the old curtain? It wasn’t that bright whatever it was.
I caught the latest Star Trek: Beyond the other week in #2. I missed opening weekend due to work commitments, the first time I’ve missed a Trek movie opening weekend ever..some 37 years. :P Since 2 was one of the original THX cert auditoriums, the experience was great. The 3D presentation didn’t seem to work right, not from a technical sense, but from the experience. Since a good portion of the movie takes place in a darkened destroyed Enterprise, whats the point of 3D?
Tonight, I saw the ‘Ben-Hur’ remake in #8. Though not a favorite auditorium, the sound and picture were excellent, if only the movie was better.
I can’t believe my drink cost about as much as my movie ticket. At least the concession stand person was friendly, the ticket taker was not. They may as well replace him with a robotic idiot to just tell me where my movie was going to show. That, I can see on my ticket.
I can remember 10 years ago the place was converted to digital projection. No spots, flickering or other film detractions today.
With the proliferation of self service kiosks, I can see the coming end of the traditional ticket booth. The kiosks are right there so there’s no need to go to the other end of the food court to buy your tickets.