Watching Corpse Bride - and commercials - at the Grove

I went to see Tim Burton's CORPSE BRIDE again last night. I'm happy to report that, having gotten over my initial disappointment, the film does seem to work much better on second viewing. I still think the story the wanders back and forth a bit, but the heart-felt emotion invested into the plight of the lead characters -- Victor, Victoria, and especially Emily the Corpse Bride -- helps offset the structural weaknesses.

I also wanted to add some details for the benefit of Los Angeles residents, who have only two theatre options for seeing the film: Loew's Cineplex Broadway Cinemas in Santa Monica and Pacific's The Grove Stadium 14 in the famous Farmer's Market shopping center of the Fairfax District in Los Angeles.

The Grove Stadium 14 Theatre is one of the best in Los Angeles, and I highly recommend seeing CORPSE BRIDE (or any film, for that matter) there -- with one tremendous caveat.

As the name implies, the theatre is located in the middle of "The Grove," a sort of artificial but quite lovely town square (a la Universal's CityWalk or Disney's Main Street), complete with a trolley car, a small grassy park area, and a pond with a tiny bridge and an impressive splashing fountain. Besides the old Farmer's Market (where you can purchase fresh produce; eat at dozens of little outdoor booths and sit-down eateries; or visit oddball stores like the Dog's Bakery, which sells treats for your pooch), there are dozens of over-priced but high-quality stores and restaurants: Victoria's Secret, The Cheesecake Factory, Whisper's Lounge, plus numerous other shops selling fancy chocolates, spices, flowers, decorations, clothing, and books and videos.

The theatre itself is a beautiful attempt to recreate the feel of an old-fashioned movie palace, the kind you used to have to drive downtown to enjoy. The lobby is three or four stories high, with giant chandeliers that resemble crystal Christmas trees turned up side down. The walls are adorned with lovely glass lighting fixtures that look like curling leaves, and there is a huge painting hung above the stairs leading up to the balcony. The carpets are beautiful, and as you proceed past the ticket counter, toward the screening rooms, you pass lovely wooden pillars and rounded marble columns. Keeping with the theme, the ticket takers are dressed in old-fashioned uniforms, including those goofy little round caps with the strap under the chin.

Despite the nostalgic appearance, the theatre has all the modern conveniences. There are automated ticket kiosks when you first enter the lobby, so that you can purchase tickets with without waiting in line at the ticket counter. If you're worried that a show might sell out, you can also purchase your tickets online ahead of time at the Grove's entry on Movietickets.Com (click here); then with a simple swipe of your credit card the kiosk will spit out your ticket and a receipt (you don't need to push any buttons or remember a purchase order number). There is a one-dollar service charge for pre-ordering online; you have to decide whether it's worth the piece of mind it gives you to know that you won't be turned away at the door.

The screening rooms themselves are nicely laid out. They are not huge, but even the smaller ones have decent sized screens and good sound. They are also very well maintained, with comfortable stadium-style seating and clean floors. Typically, before each screening, one of the ushers makes some friendly announcements (turn off your cell phone, etc). This shows a certain commitment to creating a pleasant environment for the movie-going experience, and this is a theatre where you can count on the projection to be professional: in focus, bright, sharp, and clear. And if something does go wrong, it usually is fixed before the audience has time to complain.

So what is the caveat I mentioned earlier? Unlike its sister cinema, the ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, the Grove pollutes its screen with commercials. I'm not talking about trailers for upcoming movies; I'm talking about commercials for television shows and products like Coca Cola.

For example, the official start time for the preview screening of CORPSE BRIDE that I attended on Thursday evening was 12:15am (technically, Friday morning). After two television commercials (for LOST and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER), two Coca-Cola commercials, an anti-downloading ad, plus several trailers, the film did not actually start until 12:40. To be fair, there was a slight delay when the trailer for ZATHURA broke, but even granting five minutes for that, we're still talking about twenty minutes of promotional stuff before the main feature got started. I think any reasonable film-goer would consider this ridiculous.

What makes this truly unforgivable is the ticket prices. General admission for adults is $10.75 on weeknights and $12.50 after 6:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays; there is bargain discount price of $8.75 before 6:00pm on weekdays and before 4:00pm on weekends. Children are $8.00 anytime, and seniors get in for $7.75 anytime except after six on Friday and Saturday (when they have to pay the full General Admission price tag). On top of that, even with validation, it's two dollars to park in the Grove's lot.

I don't mind paying hefty prices for a premium movie-going experience. (Well, I used to mind, but after years of sitting in local discount theatres where the projection was not bright enough, where the image was out of focus and the sound muffled, and where nobody was on hand to fix a problem when the projection broke down, I realized it was worth a few extra dollars to enjoy a movie in a good theatre.) But here's the problem: if the theatre is going to charge exorbitant prices, they should not also be sucking money out of an advertising stream that requires them to bombard their patrons with a truckload of commercials.

I still recommend that you see CORPSE BRIDE at the Grove. But please, complain to the management about the commercials. Do it in person or by phone. The Grove's direct line is 323-692-0892.