COVER

MEGAPLEX MANIA

SHANDA DEZIEL March 22 1999
COVER

MEGAPLEX MANIA

SHANDA DEZIEL March 22 1999

MEGAPLEX MANIA

Teen movies are nothing new. Hollywood has marketed horror, sex and high-school antics for generations. Teen theatres are another thing. Feeling the heat of home entertainment centres, movie theatre conglomerates that used to offer their most loyal customers little more than just films—and a darkened room—are now spending millions building youth-oriented venues. “If teens are your most frequent audience, you are probably going to try and appeal to them first,” says Roger Harris, a vice-president of Famous Players. The theatre chain, Canada’s largest, is spending about $400 million to open 30 multi-screen complexes across the country this year.

In suburban Toronto, the chain’s new Colossus theatre—designed to resemble a blinking UFO—offers 18 floor-to-ceiling screens with THX sound and stadium seating. The complex also houses two video arcade sections with the latest in virtual sports, car-racing and gun-toting games. Fast-food outlets, including Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and New York Fries, line the walls, while TV screens playing music videos hang every few feet to complete the dizzying overload. Families with young children and twentysomething couples are lost among roving packs of youth. On a recent evening, every subculture was accounted for—from ravers, skaters and punks to jocks and tough guys—but most prominent are groups of girls in matching outfits of overalls turned down, puffy coats, hair gel and lots of makeup.

They are all here for more than a movie. The flick Stephanie Reale and her four friends saw was “boring,” she says, but they were still having a great Saturday night at Colossus. “Honestly, I love it here—we come more for the place than the movie,” says Reale, 15, whose parents drop her off long before show time so she can hang out with her boyfriend, Mike Lofaso, gossip with her girlfriends and play video games. These are activities she would normally do at the mall, but finds more appealing at the megaplex.

Reale and most of her friends have part-time or summer jobs that help cover the approximately $25 it costs for one night—ticket, food and video games—at the Colossus. And, teens say, parents do not mind subsidizing occasional nights out in a safe place. Famous Players hires two policemen on weekend nights, and food-service manager Daxton Curry feels the chaos is controlled. “The police are here as a courtesy,” he says. “It is a busy place, but the kids aren’t causing any problems.” Even the teens agree that in a megaplex designed for them, they are unlikely to become bored and troublesome. As Jenni Chenette, a 17-year-old with a lip ring and short bleached hair, noted between bites of poutine: “We just go where there is more action.”

SHANDA DEZIEL