Friday, 10 February 2017

An opening night visit to Odeon BH2 in Bournemouth: The isense experience

The adverts

Tonight, 10th February 2017, Bournemouth opened up it's new Odeon cinema to the public within the BH2 complex. With my own Boy Wonder (Andy) at my side, we experienced The Lego Batman Movie in the isense auditorium. This is not a review of the movie - it's a review of the cinematic experience.

One other caveat: I am not reviewing the food here. I'm not prepared to buy cinema food or drink at the extortionate prices they demand. As such, i'm not best placed to tell you if the hot dogs, nachos, pick 'n' mix or fountain drinks are of a better quality or price than elsewhere. Personally, I take my own bottled drink and soft food (no crunching!). I do, however, think that taking pizzas into the cinema is a bad, stinky idea.

The trailers

My first observation is that the place is geared up to sell you food and drink. Having entered the main foyer there's a Costa coffee, drinks fountains, popcorn stands, nachos, sweets and more. You enter via an escalator if coming up from Bournemouth Gardens or at ground level if via the main road opposite the Moon in the Square pub. 

Immediately on your left there's a bank of 7 or 8 ticket machines for you to print pre-booked tickets or just to buy some from scratch. There were a few staff hovering around if you needed help; I'm not sure what you'd do if you wanted to pay by cash or couldn't work the machine  - possibly via the food concession stand?

Having bought your tickets and foods, it's through a ticket checkpoint and then up another escalator to the floor where the 10 screens are. It's very open-plan and space-age. The corridors are quite dimly lit but there are big numbers on each screen to help direct you. On this first floor you can also buy a drink from the bar and some 'pizza and plank' food. I couldn't see how much the food was but the pizza itself didn't look very substantial. There's a great view of the gardens from the window in the bar area. Kids were in there too, so I guess it's not an age-restricted thing.

The main feature

As I've already mentioned, we opted to  see the movie in the isense auditorium (facts are below). You access it along a curved corridor with a huge video screen on one side which was showing some sort of forest scene. When you enter the auditorium the size of the screen really hits you - It's BIG! We were five rows back from the front and any nearer would probably be a strain on the neck and eyes. We had standard seats rather than those fancy leather recliners as advertised in some of the online stories. We also had cup holders rather than tables and it was nice that they weren't sticky from too many Coke spillages.

The projection was, as you would hope, crystal clear and the enhanced sound VERY LOUD. When they did the promo ad for Dolby Atmos to show off its capabilities you really did feel the Earth move below your feet. Unfortunately, watching a U certificate film at a teatime meant we had chattering kids with legs swinging into the back of your seat, but I can hardly blame Odeon for that.

Is it worth paying the extra money for isense? You pay an extra £2.50 for the privilege. Honestly, I'd save it for the one or two times a year you want the optimum experience - the next Star Wars or Bond movie perhaps. For regular movies (and they were showing 50 Shades Darker next) I can't see isense adding much, unless you want your on-screen orgasms to shake your world that much stronger!

Fun Facts

  • BH2 is Odeon’s new 10-screen cinema, replacing the ABC and Odeon cinemas on Westover Road. 
  • It’s largest screen is in the 340-seat iSense auditorium, which has Dolby Atmos sound using 56 individually-controlled speakers. This means that sound is not just around you, it’s over and below you. 
  • The screen is approx. 55 foot x 23ft. 
  • In the screens that have recliners there is a £2 surcharge for these seats.

Final thoughts

It's a purely functional building, but it looks and feels fine. It's airy and light in the main areas and will hopefully be a popular destination for tourists and locals alike, being well placed near the beach and town centre. It's a bit sad that all the posters on the walls are now digital rather than the old fashioned paper quad posters clipped inside illuminated displays. But that's progress for you I guess. 

Friday, 3 February 2017

A farewell to cinemas on Westover Road: My Odeon and ABC movie memories

And as the lights are switched off at the Odeon Cinema in Bournemouth on February 9th 2017, it signals the first time since June 1937 that no cinema has been open on prestigious Westover Road, ‘Bournemouth’s Bond Street.’

It’s a bittersweet feeling, as the buildings are beautiful and I have so many happy memories of spending afternoons and evenings there in the ABC (later the Cannon in 1983, then the MGM from 1992 before reverting to ABC again in 1996) and the Gaumont (Odeon from 1986). On February 10th, the new cinema opens in central Bournemouth – a flagship cinema for the 21st Century, complete with luxuriant auditoria, pin-sharp projection, and in its premier iSense screen the latest immersive Dolby Atmos surround sound.  

Don’t get me wrong, I embrace new technology and look forward to the enhanced picture and sound, raked seating and being able to book a specific regular seat. The older cinemas have been deteriorating for some time – the conversion job of the Odeon from 2 screens to 6 was not entirely successful, with the walls being too thin and allowing sound spillage from neighbouring screens. Seats were past their best and the cinemas were strange shapes with poor sight lines. And yet the ABC Screen 1 was magnificent to the end. A perfectly shaped auditorium with huge curtains across its curving screen. 

My first film I recall on Westover Road was the inauspicious When the North Wind Blows starring Dan (Grizzly Adams) Haggerty in the mid-70s. Greater things were to come, and here are my magnificent seven Westover Road movie memories:

1. The Pearl & Dean adverts – It felt like they went on forever, and they were SO random, but the adverts that followed the catchy Pearl and Dean jingle are indelibly etched on my mind. From the politically incorrect ‘too orangey for crows’ Kia-Ora to ‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet’ to Vic Lawton’s Motor Body Repairs – ‘Oooh madam, we’ll soon have your body so bee-utiful again!’ they were a crackly, mismatched, block of 70s or 80s consumerism in one compact hit. They still show those awful ads for hot dogs (I think they were Westlers back in the day) but they still look horrible and cost an arm and a leg.

Image loaded onto by Len Gazzard

2. The underage viewing – Is there anything more exciting than watching a film when you’re not actually legally old enough? Instead of the ‘U’ or ‘A’ films, it wanted to see the ‘AA’s (14 or older) and for those ‘X’-rated treats – you had to be 18. My first underage film should have been Blade Runner in summer of 1982 – I was 13 ½ and you had to be 14 - but the woman at the ABC was having none of it. I had to wait many years for its re-release to finally see it in its widescreen splendour. Instead, I walked up the road that same day and was allowed to see the equally AA-rated Who Dares Wins (featured in the photo above!) a pretty ropey Lewis Collins SAS actioner. Other ‘illegal' AAs that year included Firefox, Conan the Barbarian and Fame (yes, really!). 
Frustratingly, a couple of months before my 14th birthday they increased the age from 14 to 15 with the introduction of the new 15 certificate – grrrr!  My first ‘18’ cert film was A Nightmare on Elm Street (the original) which I went to at the Odeon when I was 16. I brazenly lied about my age, smugly walked in, sat down, opened my glasses case and realised I’d left my specs at home! So, I sat in the front row, squinting my short-sighted eyes into some sort of focus as Freddy Kruger sliced his way through Johnny Depp and co.

3. The queuing up the alleyways – Back in the day, because you couldn’t buy your tickets in advance, either online or by phone, you had to queue up and take your chances. This meant that for blockbusters like Star Wars or James Bond movies you invariably had to queue up outside the cinema, which then snaked round into one of the alleyways that linked Westover Road with Hinton Road. And you waited. If you were lucky, you would get in to the next performance, but if you weren’t, you had to stay in that queue while the film played and hopefully got in for the next one. I remember queuing like this for around five hours to see The Spy Who Loved Me.

4. The double and triple bills – While this still happens in some rep cinemas, the double bill (or double feature) or triple bill is a thing of the past for modern cinemas, quite simply because you don’t make as much money. Sure, there’s the odd ‘marathon’ or over-nighter when a new film comes out in a franchise, but I’m talking about the Star Wars Trilogy or double bill – the first three Star Trek movies in one day -  and even more fascinating, the weirdly unrelated programmes. For example The Amazing Spider-Man TV movie and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, or Smokey and the Bandit and The Conquest of Earth (three edited episodes of Galactica 1980), and even Buck Rogers in the 25th Century along with Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack. Great value for money too! 

5. The non-smoking side – Even now, when I walk into a cinema auditorium I tend to favour the right-hand side. I think this is because from a very early age I conditioned myself to sitting there because that’s the ‘no smoking’ side. Contrary to what common sense and basic science would suggest, there’s evidently an invisible force field that sits dead centre of the auditorium and prevents toxic tobacco smoke from drifting across to the right side? Well, no actually, your clothes still came out stinking of fags until smoking was finally prohibited.  

ABC Bournemouth
(Image by Dusashenka from Flickr album ABC Cinema)

6. The restaurants/bars – Both the Odeon and the ABC had upstairs bars/restaurants. However, I really can’t remember being old enough to go in to them or seeing them actually open. The Odeon’s catering space was actually turned into a small 140-seat auditorium in 1995, six years after the downstairs was split into four screens. The ABC’s still existed as a redundant space right up to when it closed, typically only used as a reception area for events/premieres. 

7. The Continuous performances – Nowadays you watch a watch, the lights come up, you leave and the popcorn boxes are swept up. Back in the day you went in as and when you pleased. The performance times were more of a guide rather than clearing out times, meaning that you could watch the first performance of the day and stay in to watch it again, as I did on a couple of occasions (Battlestar Galactica and Clash of the Titans for sure). I also saw the last twenty minutes of Jaws 3D before sitting through the trailers and support programme and then the start of the film. I needn’t have bothered.

Like they say, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, and I apologise if I misremembered anything. Of course, the greatest fun was raving about the movies afterwards and saying ‘Remember that bit when…?’ So a big shout out to all family and friends who made the trips even more exciting, with honourable mentions to fellow cinemagoers Andy, Richard, Michael, Jim, Craig and Claire.