Less is More at Portsmouth Cinemas
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Best Portsmouth movie foodSEACOAST MOVIES

The odds seem stacked at 6,000 screens to one. And if you measure your movie pleasure in gallons of soda, decibels of sound and dollars spent, it’s no contest. But after visiting the Portsmouth Music Hall and the Regal Stadium 15, our enjoyment meter gives David the victory and Goliath thumb’s down.

 

 

 

Regal Entertainment Group or Music Hall Food?

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Do you ever get the urge to dine in a busy Japanese airport? Me neither, but that sums up the ambiance of the shiny new Regal Entertainment center in Newington. The aptly named "Stadium 15" is the SuperShaws, Home Depot and Walmart of movie theaters. At last, a nation grown morbidly obese on junk food has a reason to leave its HDTV home entertainment system behind for a couple of hours.

Two visits to the new Regal have convinced me that movies at the Music Hall are now the best deal in town. It’s not the biggest, but the Music Hall screen is big enough, the seats are comfortable enough, the sound is good enough and the second-floor concession stand is the most welcoming in the region. They have tea and cookies. I can get popcorn and a drink for $5. The polite volunteers who get the food really hustle, and in exchange, they get a free movie and a snack. At the risk of sounding like Streisand, it’s people who need people – and we’re lucky to have this gorgeous old theatre. I still recall when developers almost turned it into condos.

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My hat, meanwhile, is off to the corporate genius at Regal who decided Americans will now spend $10 for a small soda and a small popcorn. The snacks are not small, of course, but heck, why not upgrade a mere $2.50 and get the mega-size? Watching myself struggling to walk into an ultra-violent film with a keg of soda in one hand and a bushel basket of popcorn in the other, I understand why so many people hate Americans. And don’t forget, all combos come with a free refill.

According to their web site Regal Cinema runs 18% of all indoor movie screens in the United States. That is currently 6,386 screens in 539 locations in 40 states. If the Newington movie lobby with its 12 identical computerized checkout stations looks like the starting gate at Santa Anita, welcome to the rat race, friends. Still, since only two Regal cashiers were working during a recent matinee, I spent as much time standing in line as I ever have at the Music Hall.

"Do people really come back for the giant refill?" I asked a skinny kid behind the Regal counter. He acted stoned, but I think the poor kid was just dazed.

"A lot of people get their refill on the way out," he explained laconically, "and take it home."

And who among us can argue the value of a vat of flat Mountain Dew sitting on the kitchen counter at home? Will the arrival of wall-mounted ticket robots and crackhouse thrills spell curtains for the local monoplex? Ironically, the opposite may be true. Just as a trip to New York City makes me long for a good shower, my first venture into the neon arcade at Newington spurred me to check what’s playing more often at the Music Hall. I’ve had come to think of it as a live theatre venue, but in recent years the film program has come a long way. Portsmouth’s historic Music Hall too is undergoing a renaissance. Preservationists have restored the golden proscenium arch, replaced seating and uncovered 19th century murals. Truth is, the original Music Hall was the Victorian version of Stadium 15, but times change. Thankfully, the Music Hall has changed to keep pace.

I’m not convinced that bigger and louder movies are better. The new Regal, for my money, has gone just far enough over the edge to set off the hazard lights. What’s next -- an all-IMAX theatre with massaging chairs and plug-in intravenous Coke shunt? Watching Norbit on a 360-degree revolving holographic screen is still just watching Norbit. Will Sensurround tsunamis of sex, violence and gore desensitize our children? Honestly, I think they will. I now carry earplugs to the movies and close my eyes more than ever. I don’t need every film to become a Disney thrill ride any more that I want every meal to be a 10-course gourmet banquet. When every date becomes an orgy, what’s left?

People tell me I’m just getting old. The Regal is designed for another generation, they say, a generation with lots of cash and not many tastebuds. True enough, but statistics tell us that the population of Portsmouth is getting older, not younger. And I promise to avoid the Megaplex altogether. Sometimes it’s fun to give the pacemaker a good jolt. But in Newington, I’ll be the guy in the big coat smuggling "non-theater" food. Then I’ll blow all the money I’ve saved at that friendly Music Hall snack bar. 

Copyright © 2007 by J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.