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Arts and Entertainment

Photos: Newly Renovated Chinese Theatre Now Has IMAX, Stadium Seating

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The fabled Chinese Theatre will re-open on September 20, four months after it closed to undergo a dramatic conversion to IMAX and stadium seating. Mindful of the Hollywood landmark's historic legacy, the new owners, TCL, worked with several historical groups to make sure that the iconic features of the theater's interior were saved in the process.

On September 9, officials from the TCL Chinese Theatre and IMAX gave a tour of the newly updated 86-year-old theater to members of the press.

Alwyn Hight Kushner, president and C.O.O. of the theater, assured skeptics that none of the iconic interior features had been changed. "The historic, defining characteristics are still 100 percent intact," she said. That includes the curtain, which had to have new panels added. It's now the only IMAX theater in America with a curtain, she said.

"We took out the orchestra pit, which had been covered up, and dug into the floor about 10-15 feet," she explained of how they achieved the new slant needed for stadium seating. However, the proscenium, walls and ceiling were not touched, since they are historic. TCL worked with several historical groups, including the L.A. Conservancy and the L.A. Historic Theater Foundation in the renovation.

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What is new, however, is new LED lighting, which Hight Kushner says, "Lets you see details you haven't seen in years."

There is new carpet, but it very closely matches the existing interior. There are new, comfier seats with cup holders (per modern theater-going standards) but the original decorative end caps still adorn the aisles.

Levi Tinker, who's served as the lobby announcer for movie premieres since 2002, is also an expert in the theater's history. He said that the theater has previously undergone conversions to adapt to new technology. "There was a [refurbishment] in 2001 for the anniversary, but the last major one was in 1957 for Cinemiracle [a wide-screen format for Cinerama]." He says, "This is an even bigger renovation than that was. That's one of the great things about this place is it's always adapted, it's always changed."

Brian Bonnick, the Chief Technology Offier at IMAX, admitted, "I haven't been getting a lot of sleep lately" while tweaking the theater's new state-of-the-art IMAX system. It includes dual projection, which should eliminate any of the issues audiences usually experience with 3D, he explained, since it's projecting for both your left and right eye at the same time. (Old-fashioned 2D films will also be show in dual projection, he added.)

He said that it's a "happy coincidence" that the Chinese was converting to IMAX just as Warner Bros. was ready to unveil its 3D IMAX version of The Wizard of Oz, which had its premiere at the Chinese in 1939 and now returns September 20 in its new format.

TCL proclaims its new theater, "the best of the best moviegoing experience, unparalleled in the world."

Will it win over theater purists? People on the "Save Grauman's Chinese Theatre" Facebook page, who lobbied for the theater to maintain its original name and layout, have had mixed reactions. Some admit they're impressed, others still consider it "the desecration of a masterwork."

A few statistics:

  • The new TCL Chinese Theatre is the largest IMAX theater in the world in terms of seating capacity: 932 seats, including 16 handicapped.
  • It has the third largest commercial IMAX screen in North America.
  • The screen is 94 feet wide and 46 feet tall and is literally silver.

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