Playa Vista's Fancy New Movie Theater Has an Unsettling Upstairs-Downstairs Feeling

We’ve known for some time now that the movie theater experience is in decline. The major chains and indie houses alike have been combating this downward trend, with a move toward a more luxurious experience. Such amenities as reserved seating and expanded food-and-drink menus were once rarities reserved for the likes of ArcLight and Landmark but are now increasingly commonplace. The last few years have seen new players in Los Angeles: Sundance Sunset replaced the old Laemmle in the fall of 2012, AMC opened its Dine-In Marina 6 a few months later and Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse is headed downtown sometime soon.

Enter Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest theater chain and, until recently, one of the few without one of these newfangled luxury locations in L.A. (It has more conventional outlets at the Howard Hughes Center and in Baldwin Hills.) Nestled in the not-quite-finished Runway at Playa Vista development, the just-opened Cinemark Playa Vista and XD has everything we’ve come to expect of swanky new multiplexes, though it does put its own spin on a few of them.

Though brand new and undeniably nice, the lower level doesn’t announce itself as a premium spot in the same way the nearby Marina 6 does. All seating is reserved and the reclining chairs are expectedly cushy, but it isn’t until you pay an extra $5 to sit upstairs on the reserve level that you get a sense of what the place is really aiming for. Theaters are referred to alphabetically rather than numerically (instead of screen 1 it's screen A, 2 is B, and so on), there are some 30 seats across two rows and your view is similar to that of the balcony at the Egyptian.

Full meals and an extensive alcohol menu are available at the reserve level bar, and anyone so inclined can have their order brought to their seat, which has an attached tray for easy enjoyment.

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A black-bean burger and fries proved to be a fine accompaniment to an early evening screening of Run All Night, the latest Liam Neeson action vehicle; I ordered it just moments before the previews started and had it by the time the opening credits started rolling. The system differs from that of the Marina 6 in that you don't order or pay from your seat, and though there's no option of adding to the order without leaving the movie, it's also less distracting.

Still, the bifurcated nature of the experience was also a bit strange. On the one hand, it allows patrons to pay about as much for a ticket ($13.50) as they would anywhere else while still enjoying reserved seating and an overall sleek environment. On the other hand, it creates a literal upstairs/downstairs divide between those who opt not to spend $5 more to sit upstairs and have their tacos brought table side, and those who do. (All are welcome to get food and eat it in the lounge, however.) The actual experience of watching a movie from upstairs was expectedly comfortable, though it felt odd to look over the railing at the "normal" seats.

What's best about the Cinemark Playa Vista is that it has the intimate feel of a million-dollar home theater rather than a crowded multiplex. Naturally, that could change at a full screening, of which there will be plenty this summer. At least the black-bean burger will still be an option.


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