The biggest movie theater complex in urban Honolulu recently debuted the first act in what was billed as an enhanced cinematic experience with reserved seating, wine, beer and premium food. But some moviegoers are panning the changes.
Consolidated Theatres opened what it calls Act One of The Premiere on March 18 at its 16-screen Ward Village cinema.
The company proclaimed the upgrades would further its long history of providing stellar entertainment in Hawaii. Some customers, though, are upset at how Act One has unfolded with higher ticket prices and some films that are off-limits to anyone who isn’t at least 21 years old.
“We won’t come back,” said Ginny Edmunds, a Niu Valley resident who paid $13.75 to watch “Eye in the Sky” last weekend with her husband, John, and some friends.
The Edmundses typically would have bought $8.50 tickets for seniors, but the only showings for “Eye in the Sky” last weekend at Ward were dedicated to the new six-screen Premiere wing where patrons receive reserved seats, must be at least 21 years old and may purchase wine and beer.
“We didn’t know before we got here that was going to be the choice,” Edmunds said. “We were not happy.”
The rub for the Edmundses and other customers is that some films are shown only in the Premiere wing, which bars anyone under 21 and requires those over 21 to stand in a separate line to have their ID checked and receive a wristband regardless of whether they intend to buy wine or beer.
“They didn’t give you a choice,” said John Edmunds, adding that it was ridiculous that they had to wait in the line to show ID when they qualify for senior discounts and didn’t want wine or beer.
On the same evening, Silvia and Tony Rodriguez, a young married couple from Mililani, bought tickets for “Criminal.” But after entering the theater lobby to have their IDs checked, they found out they couldn’t see the film because they were only 20. So they got a refund and headed home instead of trying to see a different movie or waiting three hours for a 10:40 p.m. showing not restricted to Premiere viewing.
The unwelcome side effects of Act One are being felt just as a rival upscale theater experience has been launched in Kapolei, where Regal Cinemas opened a 12-plex at Kapolei Commons on Thursday with creative food offerings and horizontally reclining seats with minitables and padded footrests. Regal plans to eventually sell wine and beer, too.
Consolidated, a subsidiary of California-based Reading International Inc., contends that the early response to Act One at Ward Village has been positive.
“Guests are enjoying the creative options on our menu, especially the Okonomiyaki Fries and Banh Mi Hot Dog,” Lindsey Chun-Hori, promotions and events manager for Consolidated in Hawaii, said in an emailed statement.
Pearl City resident Ashley Russell, who recently saw “Criminal,” enjoyed the Premiere offering with three friends who ordered tickets online. The reserved seating was a benefit, she said, and though her group didn’t order beer or wine, they said they appreciated watching a movie without kids in the audience.
Consolidated announced Premiere plans in January. As part of the first phase, or Act One, a premium food menu was added, along with reserved seating and a wing of six screens restricted to adults over 21 who may purchase and consume beer and wine.
New menu, local flavors
The new food menu includes four versions of french fries ($7 to $8.50), tempura fried green beans ($8), lilikoi chicken or barbecue pulled pork bowls ($8.50), chicken tenders with fries ($9), pizza ($7), edamame ($7.50) and nachos ($6.25). The banh mi hot dog ($7.50) is a beef hot dog topped with cilantro-lemon aioli, fresh jalapenos, pickled vegetables and slaw.
Glasses of wine cost $9 to $13. Beer, mostly from microbreweries, costs $8 to $9. The beverages are served in heavy plastic versions of stemless wine glasses and pint glasses.
Consolidated emailed many customers about how the new program would operate, though much of the moviegoing public remains unaware.
Also, the emailed instructions that are also posted online are oversimplified and don’t mention that a patron might have to wait in four lines — one to buy a ticket, one to have ID checked, one to order food and one to order wine or beer. The instructions also don’t mention higher ticket prices.
Nonmatinee ticket prices for Premiere screenings are $13.75, compared with regular screenings that cost $12.25 at the Ward theater and $11 to $12 at other Consolidated theaters on Oahu. Movies shown in Ward theater’s Titan XC auditorium, which features a bigger screen, better sound and wider seats, cost $17.25.
Besides prices, Premiere showings present individuals under 21, or groups that include some people under 21, with a new wrinkle to choosing which movie to watch and at what time.
Some films are only shown in the Premiere wing. Recent examples include “The Perfect Match,” “London Has Fallen,” “Deadpool” and “The Brothers Grimsby” — all rated R.
Other films are shown in both Premiere and regular theaters, including “Barber Shop: The Next Cut,” which was recently shown at five different times on a Premiere screen and four times on a regular screen. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was recently shown seven times on a Premiere screen and 11 times on a regular screen.
Signs at the theater advertise Premiere movies as “21+,” but ticket agents often have to explain what that involves. Even some people over 21 are being caught off guard buying tickets for a Premiere show and then not having a proper ID to get into the auditorium, according to one ticket agent.
Consolidated said the terms of its liquor license require all guests consuming beer or wine to remain in a dedicated 21-and-over area.
For customers who don’t order beer or wine, they are essentially paying more for reserved seats in the Premiere wing.
Consolidated has touch screens at each ticket window so customers can select their seats, and a seat number is printed on each ticket. In the theater, rows are lettered, and each seat is numbered by a small plaque that can’t be seen once the theater is darkened. Buying tickets online, which costs an additional $1.50, also allows customers to select seats.
Consolidated acknowledged it might have to iron out some aspects of its Premiere program. Meanwhile, Act Two is planned for next year.
The second phase of Premiere will include more food and beverage upgrades, lobby renovations, plush oversized electric reclining seats and the addition of a second Titan XC auditorium.
Act Two improvement work is scheduled to begin at the end of this year. Consolidated did not respond to a question on whether ticket prices would rise further with Act Two, but Chun-Hori said the company’s flagship Honolulu theater will become even better.
“We are excited to share these new amenities with our guests and will be launching additional features and amenities to enhance the guest experience in 2017,” she said.