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Review: Cinemark Arden 14 Theaters

Cinemark tears down to rebuild an pseudo-elegant experience that's missing something.

Review by Matt Cummings

Regardless of where you live, it's clear that a renaissance is happening in theaters across the country. Hungry to lure moviegoers from their hi-def platforms at home, theater chains in the Sacramento region have been stepping up their games with more than just better food and adult beverages. Those standards now meet up with reserved seating, reclining leather chairs, and fewer seats to make the experience more exclusive. For the rebuilt Cinemark Arden 14 Theater, it's a lot of both, with most done very well. But something was missing from our recent visit, and we're not quite sure what to think of it.

Situated on the old grounds of The Century Stadium 14 Theater, Cinemark Arden has ditched the domes for a corner building situated in the back corner of the property. Essentially, you're sitting where you used to park. Encased in an appealing brick facade, the multi-story complex boasts features a large lit tower near the doors, which themselves are encased in tall panes of glass. It's certainly the kind of dramatic look that Studio Movie Grill didn't quite get right; but as you enter the lobby, there's the distinct impression that Cinemark has bigger plans.

Someone's Trying to Prove Something
Luxury is the name of the game here, with trendy couches and booths on the left, surrounded by a huge, well-lit lobby that looks very different from what you might expect. Celebrating the city's skyline, we're treated to a multi-frame image of the Sacramento Bridge and Old Sacramento that takes up most of the wall facing across from the couches. It's the first time I've seen such city buildings featured as art in a movie theater, but it's fairly plain and doesn't really serve any artistic purpose. We know that we live in Sacramento, and I would have appreciated some real media-themed art in its place. It's not awful, just a bit uninspired.

The real problem with the lobby is more about function. Situated dead center in the lobby is what Cinemark is calling a self-service concession island. It will serve popcorn, ice cream, beer, and other foods which we assume will be less nacho and more burger (none of these were offered at its soft opening). The real self-serve area is just below the city image, to the right of island. That's where you'll pick up/purchase popcorn, soda, etc. It's not a bad idea, but there appears to be only a few registers to accommodate what could be a huge line, especially if multiple shows are starting concurrently. You might be finished with your drink before you arrive to pay. Our evaluation night offered free popcorn and soda to guests, so we weren't able to see the whole machine in action. But right away, a big problem unrelated to food appeared.

Stuck in the right corner by self-serve area is a tiny ticket office. There's no place to establish rows for purchases, and it shows just what Cinemark is hoping will take place: that audiences will buy ahead rather than wait in line. What happens when a mass refund needs to happen, or if audiences wish to walk in to buy their tickets to save the convenience fees? On a big weekend I can see these lines stretching out the door. Which presents another problem that the island causes: there's no place to line up in anticipation of seating. Again, the idea that audiences will now reserve seats - at no difference in price - might keep the lines from forming in the first place, but it's not exactly clear how this work when customers arrive early. The island really cuts off any flow to the theaters, located in the rear and right of the building. However, I do commend Cinemark for stepping up to offer reserved seating, as it makes getting to the theater a much more pleasant experience.

The Theater
Things get better once you get to your seat, which are wide leather chairs with drink holes that recline, providing plenty of space for other moviegoers to walk past you without having to reset your position. Unfortunately, seats in our row were malfunctioning and I had to climb out of my seat after viewing The Accountant. The main theater is gorgeous but only contains about 300 seats. This is the new trend: make it smaller to improve the experience. I love the idea and have seen it work at better places such as Folsom's Palladio Theaters. There, the seats are wider and more comfortable; but neither offers food/drink service like Studio Movie Grill. Sound was impressive and every seat should satisfy. Walk down the hallway towards the smaller theaters, and you get a similarly plushy experience (more on that later).

Cost and Seating
We weren't told how much seats would cost, but one has to wonder how Arden can make money with half of their seats missing, especially when several rooms house only 59-62 seats. No theater will be over 300 (Stadium had four over that number), so you have to assume that scheduling will be key. Bathrooms are adequate, but only the sinks are automatic. Don't get me wrong, it's better than the tiled mayhem of Stadium, but there were places for moviegoers to stand and talk after a show was over. That's the lobby now, which could be too busy for such reflections to take place. But there's something else about it that gives us pause: maybe it's the collection of the design errors in the lobby, or the wonderful scissor-like mural in the hallway that should have been placed above the lobby instead. It's unlikely that our affinity for Stadium still has us pining for its return, but the now-trendy look could get old fast, especially if the materials don't hold up. We'll have to go back during the holidays to see if our concerns were justified, but for now it's hard to pin down our 100% support.

The Bottom Line
Cinemark Arden 14 isn't just the only building to rise from Stadium's ashes. It's clear that the City of Sacramento did their homework in redesigning an aging complex. They brought in desirable commercial properties like Nordstrom Rack and Home Goods (forming one point of a triangle at the street corner), encouraged more food to take up shop near Applebee's (on another point), and the theater forming the final point. In essence, you have an exceptional area of food, entertainment, and shopping that doesn't need the nearby Arden Fair Mall to be successful. That's perhaps the real victory behind the theater's returning, heralding an expansion that should pay off high dividends, once the theater figures out how all of its pieces will fit.

For now, we'll call Cinemark Arden 14 Theaters a guarded success, largely due to the smart design near food and shopping. It is an uograde to be sure, but tell me you don't feel like something's missing.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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