I've been watching movies in Spokane since the winter of 1980. I can remember the sticky floors at the old North Division and East Sprague Cinemas. I can remember when Spokane boasted at least seven drive-ins (and those are only the sites I can remember). I can remember when the Bing Crosby Theater was The State Theater, and when The Fox was a single-screen venue with balconies (and at least one winter when the place had no heat).
I wasn't here when the Magic Lantern opened at its original spot. But I saw many movies, under several different managements, when the theater sat on the third floor of the Atrium Bluilding on Wall Street — next to the train tracks.
So I've experienced pretty much the full range of what Spokane (not to mention Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene) moviegoing has had to offer over the past three and a half decades. And I'm here to tell you that what we now have is pretty good. I'm talking about the stadium seating, the digital sound and projection that is offered at AMC Theatres in River Park Square, at the Regal Cinemas at Northtown, the Valley Mall and Coeur d'Alene and at the the Village Center Cinemas in Airway Heights and Wandermere. Even The Garland has new seats and an adjacent bar, while Spokane is lucky even to have a continuing dedicated art cinema in the Magic Lantern.
And, yes, I know we humans love to complain. I want my moviegoing experience to be perfect, too, and I hate to compromise. But listen: I spent the weekend in York, Pa., where my wife's family lives. And I had the misfortune of watching the new "RoboCop" movie at the Queensgate Stadium 13, a theater run by Florida-based Frank Theatres. It's convenient to where my in-laws live, so in the recent past it's where I've also seen "Ender's Game" and "American Hustle."
So why do I use the word "misfortune"? Well, it's not because of the seating, which is state of the art (we did once purchase what are called "D-Box Motion-Enhanced Theatre Seats" but could never find them in the dark). It's not because of the sound, which like most modern theater sound is set loud enough to make your ears bleed. It's not even because of the concessions, which are as good (or bad) as any other theater. No, it's because of the third-rate digital projection, which makes watching movies there akin to seeing them projected through a mosquito net.
My wife and I have complained about this problem, only to receive shrugs for our efforts. In fact, few York residents even seem to notice. After "RoboCop," my wife finally got what sounds ike a serviceable explanation from one of the managers: Frank Theatres doesn't dedicate any theaters for special 3-D or CGI-enhanced showings, which means that, say, "Avatar" would get the same attention as, say, "Ride Along." Which is to say, not much. I'm not sure I buy it, but that's the official line.
I swear every time I return to York that I will never see another movie at any movie house run by Frank Theatres. But I keep finding myself in situations where it happens. Go figure.
The whole unfortunate experience does do one good thing for me, though. It makes me appreciate what we have right here in this section of the Inland Northwest.