For my first trip to Showcase SuperLux, the swank new movie theater in Chestnut Hill, I wanted to see “The Great Gatsby.” I figured it would be fun to watch on-screen excess while wallowing in excess of my own. But “Gatsby” wasn’t playing, so I chose “This Is The End,” about pampered celebrities facing the apocalypse.
If SuperLux signals the end of the world, it’s not such a bad way to go, a movie experience free of popcorn lines and gummy bears crammed into industrial carpet. Here, you’re greeted by a concierge in a vast circular lobby, escorted to a plush leather lounge chair that reclines at the touch of a button, and handed an iPad that serves as a menu. Will you order cocktails? Draft beer? Spring rolls from Davio’s? Tuna sashimi or beef carpaccio? A button on your armrest summons your personal server.
All this for $28 a ticket (plus food), which makes you wonder what’s coming next. For $50, I’d expect Wolfgang Puck and Todd English to personally deliver food to me, wearing roller skates.
Is this the future of the movies? National Amusements thinks so. The Norwood-based company, which owns the venerable Showcase Cinemas chain, opened the SuperLux earlier this month in the glorified strip mall called The Street. Shari Redstone, the National Amusements president, told me by phone that SuperLux was a solution to a problem: how to make money in a space much smaller than her typical multiplex.
Like other fancy theaters nationwide, SuperLux also addresses a larger problem: the existential threat to box office sales, due to competition from video games and home screens large and small. Movie studios have generally responded by hurling more movie in the audience’s face, in the form of 3-D projectiles and CGI effects that presumably wouldn’t look the same in your living room.
Theater operators, meanwhile, are going for ambience. Redstone said she’s selling an “adult night out” — to sit in SuperLux after 6 p.m., you have to be over 21 — and has trained her staff to offer maximum deference.
It all amounts to maximum gluttony, delivered with a straight face, and it’s actually so entertaining on its own that it risks overshadowing the movies themselves. Great cinema has always been immersive, transporting you from your small, sorry life to a totally different world. SuperLux is a completely different kind of escape, a fantasy turned inward.
This works best with a film that doesn’t require your rapt attention, given how many waiters are scurrying around in your line of vision. My truffle fries arrived at a key point in the plot, and you can guess what I focused on first.
And in between the chewing and the wiping of crumbs — because food falls on your shirt when you’re leaning that far back — I wondered if anything else had been lost. Once, movies united us in a way most other forms of live entertainment didn’t: The seats were the same price, the sightlines were largely the same, and everyone was equal once the lights went down.
These days, the movies are tiered and classified, too. In many of its ordinary theaters, National Amusements offers “Cinema DeLux,” a balcony filled with armchairs the size of first-class airline seats, where you can watch a movie while sipping cocktails and gazing at the hoi polloi below. Those chairs are at the Showcase SuperLux, too — for $20 a ticket, closer to the front, and called “LuxLite.” Luxury is relative.
There’s something weirdly egalitarian about that, the idea that a few dollars buys a visit to your inner VIP, and a few more dollars make you even more “V.” As indulgences go, a $28 movie ticket is practically a bargain, given that regular tickets top $10 — before you get your $6 soda and your $7 popcorn. (SuperLux tickets come with free all-you-can-eat popcorn.)
Redstone calls SuperLux “a luxury moviegoing experience for the masses,” and the “mass” part is important. We luxury pretenders, gathered in one fancy room, still have one advantage over the super-rich in their screening rooms at home: We get to watch the movies in the same room, sobbing together at tragedy or cheering together at explosions.
And if being pampered while reclining in a lounger is the sacrifice we need — the slightly-elevated price of keeping the collective movie experience alive — well, pass me the iPad. I have sashimi to order.
Correction: An earlier version of this column said that the SuperLux iPad menu served as a menu for Davio’s Cucina restaurant. The menu has some Davio’s items but is not strictly a Davio’s menu. Also, SuperLux tickets come with free popcorn, but not free soft drink refills.