The movie theater, Texas-style Cinema: One of the world's largest movie theaters has opened in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolis, home to the nation's third-largest movie-viewing population.

Sun Journal

March 02, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- The web of highways between Dallas and Forth Worth glows with enough strip mall and fast-food neon to make Maryland's Ritchie Highway envious.

The two rapidly growing cities have spread outward so that their suburbs overlap, creating what Texans call the "Metroplex" -- a hot dog-shaped metropolis with dual anchors 30 miles apart and, cradled inside the bun, more people (5 million) than than are found in 31 entire states.

This Dallas-Fort Worth swath of humanity is also home to the nation's third-largest movie-viewing population, behind Los Angeles and New York.

Texas, it seems, loves a good movie. And so, for the people who are paid to figure out such things, it probably made perfect sense to build one of the world's largest movie theaters right here in the Metroplex.

It's called the Grapevine Mills 30. Grapevine is a suburb, and 30 stands for the number of movie screens under one sprawling roof. That's right: a 30-plex.

The theater is equidistant from Dallas and Fort Worth, in an area just north of the metropolis where the Popeye's chicken shacks and Tex-Mex barbecue franchises begin to disappear and the barbed-wire-framed cow pastures take over again.

In the middle of one such pasture, the Grapevine Mills 30 shoots up from the flatlands like a beacon. Its 50-foot Eiffel Tower imitation topped by a neon, electric-blue globe can be seen from miles away.

And when you join 2,000 other cars parked in the lot, it becomes clear that Texas is helping change the way America sees its movies.

Grapevine Mills 30 reigns with a handful of other 30-plexes -- one in Houston, two in Southern California, one in Belgium -- as a moviegoer's nirvana. The Baltimore area's nearest competitors are wimpy affairs, with just 14 or 16 screens.

Texans have a reputation for doing things bigger. Maybe it is a rebellion against the intimidating expanse of their land. Whatever, the Metroplex (even the name sounds like a movie theater) passed the 16-screen barrier years ago, and now 16-, 18-, and 20-screen theaters squat atop many a former cow habitat.

Grapevine Mills 30 brought the state to new heights when it opened in December. People now mingle out front on a football-field-sized plaza, beneath the Eiffel Tower. They rub their chins while standing before 18 ticket booths. Inside, they follow a maze to reach their particular movie.

Yet, Grapevine's notoriety is destined to be short-lived. With ticket sales rising, mega-plexes may soon be the norm. Thirty-screen theaters are in the works in San Francisco, Cleveland and Chicago. London is planning a 32-screen movie theater next year.

"People are going to the movies now in numbers we haven't seen since the 1950s," says Jim Kazak, spokesman for the National Association of Theater Owners based in North Hollywood. "And people have really embraced the multi-screen concept."

In addition to offering more choices, more screens also give theaters the customer-friendly option of staggering movie showings. For example, Titanic was recently showing at 12: 30, 1: 30, 2, 3, 4: 45 and 5: 45 p.m. at Grapevine. So, instead of waiting two hours for the next showing, the wait is often an hour or less for first-run films.

For movie buffs like Chris and Shauna Vankleave, that means they can show up just about any time of the day and expect to see a movie within an hour or so.

"Sometimes we come and we don't have a clue what we want to watch," says Shauna Vankleave, who visits Grapevine with her husband weekly. "But something's always playing. It's almost like culture shock. There's nothing like this back home. Or anywhere."

When they left the west Texas town of Lubbock, the Vankleaves said goodbye to their creaky-floored movie house, the Winchester, whose seats jabbed you with protruding springs and whose decades-old carpeting stuck to your shoes like gum. The Winchester was eventually divided into a twin. It was nice to have two choices instead of one. But still big deal.

When they moved to their Dallas suburb, they were awed. They could drive to one place and in one night choose from among more movies than the Winchester could offer in four months.

Grapevine's 108,935 square feet (about 2 1/2 acres) can accommodate 6,000 movie viewers at once.

And there's no such thing as painful seat springs at Grapevine. Every high-tech trend in today's movie-house industry has been employed here. The "stadium seating" means wide, comfortable seats with tall headrests and plenty of leg room, and all of them on a steep incline (as in a stadium) so no one with tall hair or a Rangers cap can block your view.

Each seat also has cushioned armrests with cup holders, some of which fold up to allow snuggling. The theater calls it the "love-seat" option.

The screens are curved, from the sides and from the top and bottom, to give each person a good view. And the Sony Dynamic Digital Sound system surrounds viewers with audio.

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