December 98 will be remembered as a major month for Parisian moviegoers. Two multiplexes, the UGC Bercy and the Gaumont Aquaboulevard, were inaugurated one week apart in the city, for a total of thirty two screens and seven thousand seats. I had the opportunity to visit these places about a week before their openings, and I informed moviegoers on the French version of the site and on the French-speaking newsgroup "fr.rec.cinema.discussion". On the opening days, I was there also, got myself a ticket and saw the first shows.|
I'll first write about the UGC Bercy, then about the Gaumont Aquaboulevard..
The UGC Ciné Cité Bercy
The UGC Bercy (left) et the former wine houses (right); drawing: Denis Valode
The UGC Bercy opened December 9. This movie theater had been planned for a decade, but it couldn't be built until the whole area would be remodelled and the metro station opened. Bercy was a typical place that looked like an old village. Wine was sold in hundreds of small houses. Most of the area was torn down, to be replaced by housing projects, a park, and the cinema. Some houses near the theater were kept and remodelled; they should be used soon as restaurants, wine bars and shops.
A brand new metro line (#14) takes you right next to the former wine houses. Two hundred yards later, you reach the theater. The building is huge, on three levels; it is divided in two asymetrical parts, joined by the main lobby, a cafe, and bridges on the upper levels; a lot of glass was used for the construction.
When you arrive, you need to go down one of the two large staircases. Disabled people can use an elevator. Beyond the doors, eight box offices greet you. After that, you're in the vast main lobby, with its main (and pretty large cafe area), and a small fast-food concession stand. Auditoriums are numbered in an unusual way. On the left part (East side)are the even numbers; on the right part (West side), the odd numbers. The first digit stands for the level. Auditorium numbers range from 10, left on the first floor, through 34, right on the third floor. Numerous escalators and staircases allow you to change levels.
To access the lobby, you need a ticket. If you don't have a ticket, you can go to the second floor cafe, which is smaller though, where tv screens keep you informed about the movie schedules, people to help you know when your friends' movie will end.
The auditoriums are pretty good. They all have stadium-style seating, wall-to-wall curved screens and DTS sound. They have the UGC Ciné Cité decoration, which means everything is black but the back of the seats (made of brown wood); and the screens, of course. Good news, only two small auditoriums (thirteen out of nineteen at the UGC Ciné Cité les Halles), theater 16 (161 seats, 10 meters wide screen) and theater 17; they are a bit larger than the most of the thirteen small auditoriums at the UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles. The largest ones are theaters 31 and 33 (third level, on the right, for those who understood my descriptions!). They can accomodate up to 450 viewers, and have 18-meters (60 ft) wide screens (at their entrance is another smaller cafe). Theaters 21 and 33 are a bit smaller, with 350 seats and 16-meters wide screens. The other auditoriums look alike and are pretty decent, with 200 seats and 13-meters wide screens.
It is a pity though that no screens exceed the 20 meters. We would have appreciated a screen or two as large as the Gaumont Italie's...
Wether one likes or hates multiplexes, the opening the UGC Bercy is a major event for Parisian viewers. Almost perfect viewing conditions (except for the absence of SRD and SDDS digital sound, a common problem in UGC cinemas). And all foreign movies will be shown in their own languages (except for cartoons like Disney's, dubbed in French during the day). This cinema, the largest in Paris, is expected to sell two to three million tickets every year in the near future.
Thanks to Dominique Erenfrid, the director, who allowed this visit.
UGC Ciné Cité Bercy : December 9At long last, the cinema is opening this morning. I got up to early for the event. At the UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles, the first shows start at 9.30 in the morning. At Bercy, the first shows start between 10.30 and 11. Except for Mulan, which is dubbed in French, all foreign movies are played in their own languages (one of them being from Brazil, another one from Taiwan, the other ones from England or the United States). In the two largest auditoriums, two new releases, Lost In Space, and Mookie, a French comedy about a talking monkey... I think I'll see Lost In Space! Tickets are sold a very reasonable 45 francs (29 first show).
After I got off the bus, and still a few hundred yards away from the cinema, I can see the blue and yellow "UGC Ciné Cité" neon.
The doors open at ten, and we slowly walk towards two box offices. First arrived, first in front of the box office, first ticket (excellent!). "Since you are our first customer, your ticket is free!" - Thanks!
The employees are nice and friendly. Dozen of them seem to be all over the building. Despite the numerous corridors, escalator, staircases, cafes and corridors, you never feel lost.
I'll be in theater 33. UGC announces a screen surface of 133 sq meters (same thing for theater 31, of course). After a few previews and the usual fifteen minutes of commercials (I hate these!), Lost In Space starts. The DTS sound is loud, and very clear, and the image is good on the big screen. I think this cinema will come second (after the beautiful Gaumont Italie) for me when it comes to seeing epic movies.
Some regrets: black auditoriums are UGC's signature, but it is a bit gloomy. And they all look alike, some fantasy could have been added in some of them, like rows of lights in theater 6 at Les Halles. DTS in all auditoriums is a good thing, but the total lack of SRD or SDDS is not; most American movies don't have DTS copies in France, only SRD; that way, most movies are played in Dolby SR at Bercy and in SRD at other places.
And when the movie is over, you go out (often in the rain) and go back home because there is not anything else to do (yet).
In a nutshell, this is a very nice multiplex. And they had the great idea to build this only a twenty-minute walk away from my place! I think I'll come there often (at least twice a week), and I'll spend less time at Les Halles (I won't miss the neighborhood!).
The Gaumont Aquaboulevard
The largest auditorium, and its lights ceiling.
Gaumont took some risks too when they decide to open a multiplex, away from the usual movie theaters locations, in the complex of the Aquaboulevard (a huge waterpark), right outside the "Boulevard Périphérique" (the Parisian loop). The fourteen screen cinema opened December 16, and will accomodate up to 2,500 viewers.
The main entrance is on the upper level of the building, near the waterpark. It offers five box offices, and a Häagen Dazs stand.
A large staircase brings you to the vast lobby in the lower and main level, which has its own entrance on "rue du Colonel Pierre Avia", and two box offices. The ceiling is very high (the lobby uses both levels); it has a large concession stand and counter, but no real cafe. A huge video screen will play previews. Anyone can enter both lobbies, ticket-holders or not.
Each side of the lobby, two corridors lead to the auditoriums. On the left, you walk toward auditoriums 1 through 6 (an original font is used on the signs). At the end is a cocktail area, a corridor (which looks like a dark tunnel with hundreds of lights, like at the Gaumont Parnasse), and the larges auditorium, theater 1. It offers 485 seats (stadium seating of course). The screen is smaller than the Gaumont Italie's, but it is still one of the biggest in Paris (and bigger than UGC Bercy's) since it is twenty meters (70 ft) wide. It hasGaumont's "Grand Ecran" (Big Screen) label, used for large auditoriums when the screen is at least 20 meters wide. The walls and the floors are black, but the seats are red. I could not see that, but thousands of lights will light up the ceiling.
All the other auditoriums have the "Gaumontrama" label. This label was created back in '86, when auditoriums and screens were rather small. It meant the screen was at least ten meters wide. Of course, this doesn't mean much in a state-of-the-art multiplex, and some say this label won't be used for multiplexes any longer. On the right side of the lobby, the corridor leads to theaters 7 through 15. 15? Yes, there is no theater 13! I haven't seen the second largest auditorium yet, theater 7. It has 300 seats and a 14-meter wide screen. Before the movie, viewers will see a laser show (short movie with laser effects in the theater), like at the Gaumont Italie. The other auditoriums range from 95 through 195 seats (stadium seating also). The same colors are used, but some light blue and fish painted on the wall remind us the waterpark is close. The smallest screens are nine meters wide, but they use the 1.85 format (bigger surface for the same width), and they are biggest than the small screens at the Gaumont Parnasse. Basically, it is easy to remember that the medium-sized auditoriums have odd numbers, and that the smaller auditoriums have even numbers. All auditoriums are equipped with SRD sound.
Shows start around eleven. Tickets are sold 49 francs (27 in the morning). All movies (no or very few exceptions, I'm afraid) will be dubbed in French.
Gaumont Aquaboulevard : December 16
Wednesday, Decembre 16. This week, Gaumont made news with its own multiplex.
As expected (feared?!), all foreign movies (11 out of 14) are dubbed in French. It leaves very little choice, one of the three French movies played, "Le Dîner De Cons", although really good and the most successful French movie of the year, is more than seven months. I decide to see Patrick Schulmann's "Comme Une Bête"; I've always liked this director, he always puts craziness in his stories and dialogs. Christmas is close, and the two largest auditoriums feature The Prince Of Egypt (on its opening day) and Mulan.
All the auditoriums have the same schedule. This is easier to figure for viewers, but it might be a problem in case of big attendance. I arrive at 10.20
Only a few of us wait in front of the closed box offices. Some workers use ladders to check the ceiling. Some security guys watch the place, and the whole complex. Gangs won't be welcome here.
The box office opens; a smile greets us (every employee seems to be smiling there). Ticket (#0000001!) in hand, I go down the large staircase, take the left corridor, and get into theater 5, one of the medium-sized auditoriums.
Like in the other auditoriums, the entrance doors are located at the front, near the screen. The atmosphere is very quiet; I feel isolated; maybe it is because there is no-one else but me... But it seems to be the movie's fault, it did not attract many viewers anywhere else either. Some construction work can be heard not very far, but it will stop before the show starts.
After a few previews and the usual fifteen minutes of commercials (the theater is too dark during the commercials, and prevents from reading...), the ligths are turned off... almost. The emergency exits signs are close to the screen and light up parts of it, but I won't notice any problems during the film. The movie starts without the SRD trailer, but I can hear some digital sound effects.
During the movie, the doors will open several times, and some employees will come in for a few seconds or minutes, or will just have a look. With the doors so close to the screen, this was disturbing (let's hope it just happened because it was the first show, and that it won't happen again). A half hour before the movie ends, I'll hear a drill, not very long, but several times; and a hammer. This needs to be solved very soon...
At the end of the movie, I don't have to use the emergency exits. The employee, with a smile of course, asks me and viewers from other auditoriums if everything was allright (yes, except for the noise...), and says good-bye! Employees are really friendly. In the lobby, a few dozen people wait to enter the auditoriums.
Too bad every movie will be dubbed in French, because Gaumont will not be able to attract the moviegoers (French moviegoers always see movies in their original languages). The public will come from neighboring towns, and from the South of the 14th and 15th arrondissements. The Gaumont Alésia and the Gaumont Convention, not very far away, might know some problems. The two small second-run cinemas close to the Aquaboulevard, the Grand-Pavois (4 screens) and the Saint-Lambert (3 screens), might lose some young viewers because they play many movies for kids in the afternoon, and parents might decide it is more convenient to drive to the new multiplex. But the other movies they play are all in their own languages, and they should keep their audience.
Once again, it is too bad all movies will be dubbed in French!
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