Rudyard Coltman got his start at the Eltrym Theater in Baker City, OR. This tiny, pastel art deco theater would be the jumping-off point for a small business empire. Coltman, a former business lawyer, had an eye for grandeur and an appetite for film.
The year is 1975, and the film industry’s catalyst is Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws”. Millions of people packed into air-conditioned theaters to escape the summer heat, and thus the summer blockbuster—and an American tradition—was born. Along with mall culture and fast food, summer movie going seems inherent to the American lifestyle; it is also indicative of the values of mass consumption and the prioritization of convenience.
Enter another American value: fiscal localism. Also known as “Buy Local, Eat Local, Go Local.” This takes us straight to Cinetopia.
“I wanted a design that felt more like an art gallery or a performing arts center rather than an arcade, which is what I feel the large corporate chain movie theaters feel like,” Coltman said in a 2005 interview following the grand opening of the first Cinetopia, located off Mill Plain and I-205 in Vancouver.
He must have been talking about Regal Cinemas, a Vancouver staple. Headquartered north of Knoxville, Tennessee, Regal is the face of faceless corporate theatrical entertainment. It is also cheaper than Cinetopia, the negative tax of consumerism that lowers quality but exponentially increases quantity. Perhaps Regal senses the threat faced by Cinetopia’s luxury theatrical experience, as just this year, it acquired a small chain of theaters located in Kansas City, which happens to be the same location of the only Cinetopia outside the Vancouver-Portland metro area. Coincidence? You decide.
This summer, being the human equivalent of a low-budget film, I saw two movies, thanks to gift cards I acquired via unoriginal relatives.
The first movie I saw was “Baby Driver”—a breakout blockbuster written and directed by Edgar Wright that is being compared to Tarantino’s work. Sidling into Regal Cinemas early on a Saturday, I found a seat with ease in a cool 70-degree room. I had been anxious about forgetting a sweatshirt, but the small room compensated by being pleasantly warm. The movie itself was enjoyable—fresh, idiosyncratic, interestingly filmed, and included a two-hour-long soundtrack—but the theater reeked of stale butter and salt. The “Baby Driver” opening scene is its innovation, in which Wright manages to time the music beats to the movement in the sequence and reinvent the biggest cliché of all action movies: the car chase.
“The Dark Tower” at Cinetopia didn’t fair so well. As a lifelong Stephen King fan, I can sincerely report that the best part of the movie was the preview for King’s upcoming remake of “It”—a personal favorite—and the worst part was the lack of substance. For an eight-book epic, even by King’s prolific standards, the adaptation skipped all of the core elements, from character development to a plot line to an enticing screenplay, all of which most people generally consider to be fundamental. You know it is bad when the script reads like an actual script, and not even dynamic duo luminous Idris Elba and hammy Matthew McConaughey can save the movie from its incomprehensible and unfaithful messiness.
Ironically, the luxury of Cinetopia contrasted with the dullness of “The Dark Tower,” while the original of Regal Cinemas diverged with the uniqueness of “Baby Driver.” And unfortunately for Coltman, not even the exquisite design and amenities Cinetopia has to offer can make up for the coarseness of a surprisingly short and frankly terrible movie.