The TCL Chinese Theatre has a new feather to add to its cap: Hollywood's first and only IMAX screen. After closing for renovations on May 1 of this year, the 86-year-old movie palace will host the 3D/IMAX premiere of The Wizard of Oz (which had its original premiere there in 1939) this Sunday before properly reopening five days later, when the retrofitted classic becomes available to the masses.
That news of this sort is often met with as much reservation as excitement is perfectly understandable -- luxe interiors and new capabilities are great, but not when they sap a revered institution of its spirit. If, like many, you begrudge the fact that it's no longer known as Grauman's Chinese Theatre and worry that it may emerge from its cocoon no longer resembling its former self, fret not. Over the phone, theater rep Jerry Brown assures me the management "bent over backwards" to preserve the historical aspects of the Chinese, which was opened by Sid Grauman in 1927 and now lays claim to having hosted more world premieres than any other theater. It became known as Mann's Chinese Theatre in 1973 and acquired its current moniker earlier this year after the naming rights were bought by the TCL Corporation, a Chinese electronics company.
The available information would appear to confirm his statement and inspire cautious optimism. "In addition to the technical, seating and other enhancements," Brown says over email, "the renovation was conducted with guidance from the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation; LA Conservancy, Historic Resources Group; and Hollywood Heritage to ensure [its] preservation."
The technical specs also check out: the Chinese now has the highest seating capacity of any IMAX theater in the world, the third-largest IMAX screen in North America (94' wide by 46' tall), and the only one with a curtain. As for amenities, there are now 932 custom red velvet seats (as opposed to the original 1,162) with retractable cup holders and more leg room, a revamped concession stand with digital menus and new items (chocolate-dipped fortune cookies, for one), and a loyalty program soon to come. Should the most famous movie theater in the world retain its singular atmosphere, you can expect many to sign up.
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