Sit back, recline and listen up while you watch.
The Roxy Theater reopened for movies on Friday with newer, more comfortable seats, and improved sound that should make dialogue more clear.
The old chairs and sound quality were the No. 1 sore points from customers, said Mike Steinberg, the nonprofit community cinema's executive director.
The new speakers are "designed specifically designed for dialogue. That's the biggest and most important upgrade, because it's always been an issue here," he said.
The previous ones were likely installed back when the theater reopened in the 1990s. Steinberg said they discovered they weren't designed for dialogue, and could be muffled depending on the movie and its particular mix. The new set-up is "100 percent designed" for clear dialogue and brings them up to 7.1 surround sound.
The seats boast thicker padding with a green, Deco-inspired theme, complete with a beveled design panel on the row ends designed by Tessla Hastings, their consultant, and cupholders on the armrests.
They were designed and manufactured by the Irwin Seating Co. of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
They can recline, a feature those way up front should notice.
"You couldn't lean like that in the front row before. It's a comfortable viewing experience now," he said.
The previously tight aisle space has been just about doubled, giving people more room to get up during a movie. (They've joked that this could improve their concessions and beer sales.)
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They did lose seats due to the extra space required. Their theaters now have 102, 90 and 60.
"What we give up in actual seats for sale we gain in comfort," he said.
The installation required the Roxy to close for more than two weeks. To compensate, and drum up excitement, they've lined out a series of classic movies like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "Titanic" (both on Saturday, July 20). Next weekend, they'll screen "Jaws," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Tombstone." Early August will kick off screenings of the original "Star Wars" trilogy, one film running per week. Steinberg said it's likely the first time there have been sanctioned screenings of the movies in Missoula since the Special Edition films were released in the late 1990s.
Grants paid for the seats, with money from the Bill and Rosemary Gallagher Foundation and the Treacy Foundation. A Missoula Gives campaign helped pay for the seating and the sound improvements.
Six years ago, Steinberg and company launched the Roxy as a year-round art house cinema as a program of the International Wildlife Film Festival, with first-run movies, repertory screenings (i.e. classics from "Indiana Jones" to Ingmar Bergman), and documentaries or one-offs hosted with nonprofits, businesses or community organizations. It also hosts the annual IWFF, and launched the Montana Film Festival, entering its fifth year this October.
He said that these renovations enter a "final phase" of improvements to be made since the Roxy reopened. They've also installed the new neon marquee and upgraded to Digital Cinema Projection.
When the Roxy launched as an art house, the conventional wisdom was that Americans were moving away from theaters to streaming.
"There was a lot of gloom and doom reporting about the demise of the movie theater, and in truth the biggest impact was on the chains. It wasn't on the independent, mission-driven art house theaters like the Roxy has become," Steinberg said. Last year, they showed four of their 10 top movies ever.
"Our sense is that there's a core of people who want to do this, who want to go out into the community and see a movie together, experience it in that communal way that only movies can provide. You can't get that at home," he said.
He said films like "Roma," which premiered on Netflix before coming to the Roxy, proves that there are films that seem designed for that art house experience, where there's no pause-and-resume option.