July 9 2014 12:00 AM

Lansing’s newest movie theater could stir up cultural pot

On Friday, as the primates in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” launch their campaign to take over civilization — or at least the box office — Lansing-area audiences will see a significant shift in the local cultural landscape. A new movie theater, Regal Lansing Mall Cinemas 12 & RPX, opens Friday inside the Lansing Mall. It will bring the total number of screens in Lansing to 64, the most the area has ever seen. It also opens up a whole new set of possibilities for mid- Michigan movie fans.

“Michigan was definitely an area we were interested in being a part of, and Lansing is one of the most energetic areas in the state,” said Jewel Gallagher, spokeswoman for the theater’s Knoxville, Tenn.-based parent company, Regal Entertainment Group. “This is going to be a very good fit.”

Regal Entertainment is the largest chain of movie theaters in the country, with 574 theaters in 42 states. To commemorate its grand opening, Regal Cinemas held $2 movie nights Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, with all money going to local charities. Additionally, through the month of July, Regal will give free pop and popcorn to all Regal free loyalty card holders.

It continues Lansing Mall’s recent growth spurt in reaching out to national chains to fill space; Longhorn Steakhouse opened its first area location there earlier this year, while Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill will open its second Michigan location there this fall.

“(We) believe the addition of these three prominent tenants will serve as major attractions within the area and will drive additional foot traffic,” said Matthew Chudoba via email, spokesman for the New York-based Rouse Properties that owns the mall. “Rouse sees great potential in Lansing Mall, as it is (ideally) located in one of the fastest growing townships in Michigan, easily accessible from I-96, I-69 and US-127.”

Mid-Michigan was already doing pretty good as far as movie theaters, but Regal fills in a niche in the environment — it complements NCG Eastwood Cinemas on the north side, Studio C! Meridian Mall on the east and Celebration! Cinema Lansing & IMAX on the south side to create an almost uniform distribution of screens. Now no matter where you live in the capital area, you’ll never have to drive more than 10 minutes to get to a theater.

Regal Cinemas has 12 screens, including the Regal Premium Experience auditorium — the RPX in the name —which has a 60-foot-wide screen and a 100,000-watt sound system rumbling 300 high-back leather rocking seats. The screen requires premium pricing (prices weren’t listed as of press time). Gallagher said RPX has been a hit in other cities.

“Everything about the RPX was designed to create the best experience possible,” Gallagher said. “Even if you’re sitting in the front row, you’re going to be getting just as good an experience as you are in the middle or the back. We see ourselves as the final part of a film’s journey, from concept to presentation. We bring the Hollywood experience to a pinnacle.”

Thirteen miles southeast, Celebration!

Cinema lays claim to the apex predator of modern moviegoing: Its IMAX screen towers over the RPX, gobbling up spectacle-craving audiences who seek city–leveling ape squads, radioactive monsters and razor-cheeked dominatrices.

“The IMAX screen is still the most immersive experience in the market,” said Steve VanWagoner, vice president of marketing for Celebration! Cinemas. “I haven’t seen a film at an RPX screen, but I am looking forward to checking it out.”

In one of its auditoriums last year, Celebration! added 26 D-BOX seats, which physically move in coordination with the screen, giving films the added dimension of motion. It’s all part of industry-wide move to woo back entertainment consumers who are increasingly spending their movie-watching time on smaller screens. Although annual box office totals continue to increase each year, overall attendance is down (chalk that disparity up to higher ticket prices and increased premium services, such as 3-D). Furthermore, fewer movies are being released each year. It’s a weird time to be a theater owner.

“It used to be the studios released 400 to 500 movies each year, which were mostly watched by Americans,” said Tom Leech, owner of Video-to-Go in Frandor. “Now there are only 200 to 300, and most of the money now comes from overseas markets. The most recent ‘Transformers’ opened bigger in China than it did here. That’s never happened before.”

Leech sees the opening of Regal as a positive sign that the industry is still able to reach first-run moviegoers. His bread-and-butter are those who watch at home, but he said an active first-run audience will encourage the studios to release more films. Even so, he had to shrink his 34-year-old business nearly in half five years ago as he’s watched other video stores — now an endangered species —disappear around town.

“There’s only so much product at play,” he said. “We have the same problems (as the theaters), but on a much different scale.”

One of the things theaters have started doing to lure audiences out of their caves is to give them something even more comfortable to plop down on. Memory foam seats and leather recliners — with cup holders! — have started to replace the traditional straight-backed stadium seats. Another part of the stratagem is the addition of gourmet food offerings. Sour Patch Kids and Junior Mints do not a meal make. Gallagher said Regal’s kitchen will have steak burgers, personal pizzas, jalapeo poppers and spicy chicken filets.

“People are really looking for something more than popcorn and nachos when they go to the theater,” Gallagher said. “We added these based on demand. And we’ll continue to modify our menu based on feedback. It has the potential to grow from there.”

VanWagoner confirmed the change in dining habits has been a boon for business. When Studio C! (which is operated by Cel ebration!) opened in December 2012, it included Oscar’s Bistro, an in-theater restaurant serving upscale fare like wood-fired pizza and loaded mac and cheese.

“It’s been very successful, and our premium (recliner) seating routinely sells out for the bigger movies,” VanWagoner said. “We’ve since opened another theater like that in Portage. It works.”

Also working: The addition of alcohol.

No more spiking your Coke with a smuggled airplane bottle of rum; Both Studio C! and Regal feature bar menus, although Regal is limited to beer and wine. Studio C!’s fare includes specialty mixed drinks. Even the local film festivals are getting in on the act.

“We’ve definitely found that brew and view screenings are more highly attended than regular ones,” said Dominic Cochran, co-founder of the Capital City Film Festival, held each April. “It gives people another reason to go to the movies.”

He said Lansing audiences are hungry for film, as evidenced by the area’s two annual film festivals — the other is the East Lansing Film Festival, entering its 17th year this fall. He said the addition of Regal Cinemas has the power to instigate a real change in local movie-watching.

“The more screens you have in an area, the better it is, plain and simple,” he said. “I hope it will encourage the theaters to take more chances by showing smaller movies that won’t necessarily pack houses. Lansing audiences are film savvy, but more importantly, they’re open-minded. And they’ve responded positively to the curatorial voice that the film festival has built over the last four years.”

Cochran said getting a new movie theater is actually big news, culturally speaking.

“Lansing has a lot of art galleries, we’ve got the Broad, and we’re showing that we’re ready for more art,” he said. “I think it’s a great sign for things to come.”

Leech said he’ll go to Regal to check it out, but isn’t sure what it will take to get him down there.

“I’ll be 69 in October — I’m finicky about what I see,” he said. “I can’t stay awake for mechanical monsters blowing cities up anymore. But there will always be new movies coming out, so we’ll always need more movie theaters out there.”

Regal Lansing Mall Cinemas 12 & RPX

Regal Dream It & Achieve it Day benefitting Junior Achievement of Mid-Michigan All movies $2 today “The Secret Life of Walter Middy” (PG) 1:10 p.m., 4:20 p.m., 7:20 pm., 10:10 p.m. “The Book Thief” (PG-13) 11:50 a.m., 3 p.m., 6:20 p.m., 9:30 p.m. “Saving Mr. Banks” (PG-13) 1:30 p.m., 4:10 p.m., 6:50 p.m., 9:20 p.m. “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” (PG) 2 p.m., 5 p.m., 7:50 p.m., 10:30 p.m. 5330 W. Saginaw Highway, Lansing

(517) 327-0959 regmovies.com/lansing