Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Who knew that Arlington for months has been home to a cutting-edge experiment in cinema innovation?

If you’ve caught a flick recently at the AMC Courthouse theater, you couldn’t miss that you were transported to movieland while lying on a plush, Barcalounger-type recliner.

Unless you fell asleep (the fault of the film?), you probably sunk your tired bones into a supine experience that may be the wave of the theater-going future.

Courthouse is one of just five theaters across the country that the Kansas City, Mo.-based AMC Entertainment has outfitted with luxury seats (others are Kansas City; Lakewood, Wash.; Fresh Meadows, N.Y.; and Atlanta, Ga.)

The company’s risky investment in an age when theaters are closing is already paying off, says AMC spokesman Ryan Noonan. In some locations, attendance has doubled because of “popularity and demand,” he says. Such tush-friendly seats are now under construction in all the chain’s outlets.

One advantage of the lie-down-to-watch approach is that you reserve your seat in advance—either online or at the box office. Configurations differ by screening room within the complex, but they generally consist of a platform of five to 10 rows of nine or 10 seats. That’s considerably fewer than the hundreds of straight-up seats under the old design, but AMC is betting there’s more profit in keeping a smaller set of seats regularly filled.

“We had to remove 50-70 percent of the old seating,” Noonan says, “But nothing matches bringing the comfort of your living room into the movie theater.”

During this year’s run-up to the Oscars, my wife and made a marathon out of catching five contender movies at Courthouse within two weeks. I was blown away by the adventure of the synthetic red leather recliners that, with an easy control button, allow you to put the footrest up and the backrest back while you drape your arms languorously on the thick soft armrests (each with a super-size cup holder).

For some, this might seem a bit too intimate, lying alongside sleepy strangers who, in my wife’s phrase, are “balancing extra-large popcorn bags on their potbellies.”

Noonan notes that “you don’t have to lean all the way back. It’s super-comfortable, and yes, you would fall asleep if all you were doing is sitting in a comfortable seat, but you’re also watching a great movie.”

Lying back to gaze up at the silver screen is a far cry from the movie house experience of my youth. Who doesn’t recall the days—before today’s era of constant pushing of theater chain discount cards— when ushers with flashlights showed you to the best available seat, when rows of seats were built so a tall person to your front blocked your view, when candy wrappers were simply left on the floor for removal by janitors.

“There are a number of options now in home entertainment,” Noonan says, citing huge home sound systems, Blue Ray and DVDs, and cable TV. “It’s important to stay on the cutting edge.”


Separately in courthouse area news, the County Board on Saturday unanimously approved the long-sought permit to build a homeless services center, despite complaints by some residents of nearby condos. The new 75-bed year-round center will replace the seasonal A-SPAN facility across the square. Typically, Arlington’s approach adds up to a comprehensive strategy–to get the homeless into long-term housing.