Village Cinema in Meridian shakes up movie scene

Fancy food and fancy seats create a new experience for Valley film fans.

mdeeds@idahostatesman.comDecember 1, 2013 

  • WANT TO CHECK IT OUT?

    Village Cinema

    Address: 3711 E. Longwing Lane, Meridian

    Movie information: (208) 846-8463

    Online: cinemawest.com

    Main floor general admission: $10 adult, $7 child/senior, $7 adult matinee

    Upcharges: $2 for 3D, $3 for VIP, $8 for D-Box

    What is D-Box?

    There are 24 D-Box seats in one of the two main auditoriums. The seats move and vibrate, using motion technology that follows the on-screen action.

    What is Dolby Atmos?

    Dolby Atmos surround sound, which debuted in 2012, offers dozens of discrete channels of audios. With 49 speakers in each of the two main auditoriums at Village Cinema, sound roars from overhead, as well as the front, sides and rear. The effect is immersive. The panning of a helicopter blade, for example, takes on a new level of realism.

    Backstage Bistro restaurant and bar

    Capacity including balcony: 191

    Reservations: (208) 995-2943

    Hours: Dinner from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Opens for lunch at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

    Executive chef: Tal Jude

    Entree examples: Short rib bourguignon ($22), Coq au vin blanc ($19), pumpkin gnocchi ($14), “The Short Film” burger ($7.50)

    Alcohol examples: Glass of Milbrandt Vineyards merlot ($7), draft of Payette Outlaw IPA ($6.50), Village Collins specialty cocktail of 44[0xb0] North huckleberry vodka, St. Germain liqueur, club soda, lemon ($12)

About twice a month, David Jones and his daughter, Melanie Jones, drive from Mountain Home to Boise to see a movie at Edwards Stadium 22 & Imax.

But on a recent Friday afternoon, the self-proclaimed movie buffs kept heading west, onward to Meridian, to check out the new 15-screen, 2,500-seat Village Cinema.

Digitally displayed on a 60-by-30-foot screen, “Thor: The Dark World” thundered through 49 Dolby Atmos speakers. The Joneses paid $15 each — an $8 upcharge on top of the normal $7 matinee price — to sit in vibrating D-Box seats, which lunged and glided with the bone-rattling action on-screen.

“It was awesome,” Melanie, 25, said afterward as the credits rolled. “It felt like being at Disney World. It wasn’t distracting. It was worth the extra money.”

“I enjoyed it,” David, 52, agreed.

Still, realistically, how often will the Joneses be back? For them, it’s a bit of a haul to the Village at Meridian shopping complex at Fairview and Eagle.

“Well, Krispy Kreme’s over here,” David noted with a grin.

This is true.

Decadent donuts are one of the few luxuries not yet available inside the towering walls of the Treasure Valley’s new 74,000-square-foot multiplex, which hopes to lower the boom on competitors with the ferocity of Thor’s hammer.

WOULD YOU LIKE KAHLUA WITH THAT?

Since opening Oct. 18 at the state’s busiest intersection, Village Cinema has upgraded and reinvented the Boise market’s moviegoing options. Bells and whistles such as the D-Box seating and Dolby Atmos sound are exclusive to the region. All movie tickets are sold as reserved seats, which patrons can buy online in advance, from self-serve kiosks on site or from box-office staff.

Yet it’s the ritzy environment that truly sets Village Cinema apart — and not just the posh, hotel-like decor with Italian-made chandeliers and murals created in Hollywood. Or even the Dawson Taylor-stocked coffee bar, which accounts for 20 percent to 25 percent of the concession sales.

In an unusual move, Village Cinema also serves fancy meals such as rack of lamb and Alaskan sockeye salmon in a second-floor restaurant and bar called Backstage Bistro.

Village Cinema Director of Operations James Howard likens it to a return to dinner theater, which was popular in the early to middle 20th century.

“We’ve come full circle,” he said.

In nine of the auditoriums, waitstaff floats in and out of relaxed, upper-balcony VIP areas — a $3 upcharge — limited to moviegoers over 21. Menus include mouth-watering temptations such as pulled-pork tacos or an artisanal meat-and-cheese plate. How about a glass of wine or locally brewed beer while you watch the movie?

Better yet, a shot of tequila! A bottle of Kahlua liqueur sits near a glass case of ice cream at the Backstage Cafe mini-bar, begging to be poured over the icy treat.

“What we’re trying to do is create a new excitement about going out to the movie,” Howard said.

A self-described architect, classically trained chef and restaurateur, Howard was brought in from Philadelphia in June to expand the hospitality concept at Village Cinema. One of his key decisions was to eliminate a VIP balcony to make more room for the kitchen.

Other cool perks at Village Cinema include an arcade with more than a dozen games (air hockey!) and a large sitting area with sofas and tables across from the concession stand.

“The whole building is plush,” Howard said proudly. “It’s a pleasure to be in. You can dine separately, go to the movie separately, or do them both in the same seat.”

“So if you are on a date,” he said, “you can get full waiter service, a full menu right in your seat, watch James Bond and drink a martini.”

BELLS AND WHISTLES

As home-theater technology continues to improve, coaxing movie watchers out of their houses has become a bigger challenge. Village Cinema is the first multiplex with a restaurant and bar for Cinema West, a Northern California-based chain with 12 theaters, including one in Twin Falls. And although other theater operators have begun offering food beyond the normal pricey cola and box of Hot Tamales, fine dining and a VIP area with full alcohol are still relatively rare in the industry.

“If it catches on in your neck of the woods, it will roll out wider and quicker,” predicted Paul Bond, West Coast business editor for entertainment industry publication The Hollywood Reporter.

That said, Paul remained skeptical about waitstaff as a large-scale trend.

“There have been efforts on and off for years to introduce waitresses to movie theaters,” he said, “and it always sounds cool, but in the end, not very popular.”

On the other hand, this is the Village at Meridian, where pampering is expected. They even make the fountains in the courtyard dance for us, right? (A synchronized music and light show happens every hour on the hour.)

“The best view is from our deck,” Howard bragged.

Ah, yes — Backstage Bistro’s second-floor outdoor deck. Standing near an unlit firepit, Jackie Richards of Boise smiled approvingly and surveyed shoppers in the courtyard below. She described the Village Cinema experience as “just upscale.”

“It’s a little flair of Boise, Idaho, (blended with) California,” explained Richards, who moved here from the Golden State 23 years ago.

It’s hard to argue with that — especially since this isn’t the first time California has influenced the Treasure Valley movie-theater scene. When Edwards Cinemas arrived with its seven miles of neon in 1997, it was the Idaho debut of the megaplex concept, plus the stadium seating and high-tech sound that came with it. Imax soon followed, along with Edwards multiplexes in Nampa and Downtown Boise.

Bond is not convinced that Village Cinema’s technological bells and whistles are game-changers for the movie industry. Hollywood movers and shakers predict more dramatic overhauls to keep the industry growing and profitable, he said.

Bond calls the moving D-Box seats a novelty: “I don’t give it much of a chance to catch on long-term with the mainstream,” he said.

As for the benefits of Atmos sound? “What most theaters have now is so good that improvements are hardly noticed,” Bond explained.

Well, maybe. Walking out of “Thor: The Dark World,” Ruben Cardenas, of Caldwell, and Jose Loya, of Boise, were all smiles.

For Loya, 27, the source of the joy was his D-Box seat.

“It was definitely unexpected,” Loya said. “The action scenes actually kind of picked you up and moved you.”

“I was more into the sound,” Cardenas, 46, said. “I thought it was incredible.”

Cardenas summed up the pair’s overall feeling about Meridian’s new multiplex: “It’s amazing,” he said.

They aren’t alone. Village Cinema was flooded with 4,300 moviegoers on the Saturday of opening weekend of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

“And that doesn’t include the business in the Bistro,” Howard said.

Michael Deeds: 377-6407

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