(We interrupt your normally wonderful blog posts for a guest spot by the husband. Deborah will be back in this space soon.)
Last weekend, we went to see The Dark Knight, the latest Batman movie that's been racking up jillions of dollars since its release. The movie was great (if you even thought about enjoying Batman Begins and by some chance haven't seen this yet, I highly recommend seeing it in the theater -- some of the visuals definitely belong on the big screen), but there was something competing for my wow-factor that night -- the theater itself.
We went to see TDK (I love acronyms) at the Golden Stars cinema. This is part of City Stars, which is a business/residential/retail development in Heliopolis, northeast of downtown Cairo. It'll get its own post later (6 stories, 600 shops, and that's just the retail portion). After about a 30-minute mostly-boring (by Egyptian standards) ride there, we found the theater and bought our tickets. Here's where things got interesting. First, the tickets were LE100 each (a little under $20, $18.87 with a good exchange rate), which is about 4x the going rate most places here (and even more expensive than most theaters in the States). Next, I got to pick our seats. There was a touchscreen with a diagram of the theater and I picked out seats D3 and D4 for us. We got our tickets, each of which had an individually printed label on the back identifying our particular seat. Did I mention there were only 36 seats in the whole theater? I knew this was going to be interesting.
Since we had about 45 minutes before the start of the movie, and the previous show wasn't out yet, we went into the lounge area. There we picked our dinner off of the menu (we both decided on a cheeseburger with chips, I got some chocolate ice cream too), gave our order to one of the staff, and bought some popcorn and water (about $4 for a popcorn and 2 bottles of water--that felt bizarrely cheap in a theater).
Once the previous show was out and the theater was open, we went on inside. When we walked in, we were greeted by an usher who asked for our tickets and then showed us to our seats, which happened to be leather recliners, facing about a 15-foot movie screen. There were 6 rows, with an aisle dividing each row into one pair of seats and then the other 4 (Yes, I know the pictures show it differently. They're wrong, but the only photos of the theater I could find online. Deborah's very good at painting a picture with words. I just settle for lots of links to other websites and promo shots). They were spaced far enough that each seat could fully recline without kicking anyone in the head (no way someone could "accidentally" kick your seat in this place!). The recliners were all a bluish-gray and VERY comfortable -- they really did recline ALL THE WAY back. There was a small wooden table (roughly 24" in diameter) between our seats, so we had a place for our popcorn and water. The crowd was definitely upscale, several Westerners, probably a couple of Saudis, and several well-to-do Egyptians.
About 7:10 or so (the showtime was 7, Egyptian standard time), the lights went down and the screen came alive with . . . a blue "insert DVD" screen which quickly led to a "loading" message and then a fairly grainy image of a standard-definition DVD playing some commercials. I'm sure it would've looked fine on a regular-size screen, but at the size it was being projected to, it looked pretty rotten if you were expecting a typical movie picture. Luckily, after a couple of commercials and previews for upcoming Egyptian films, the picture went dark for a second, then came back with a much better picture (apparently there are two projectors, one for the commercials/previews, one for the movie). During the opening (naturally), a waiter arrived, bringing our previously-ordered cheeseburgers. He set the tray on the table and quickly departed. While the movie was very entertaining, the cheeseburger was only mediocre, but the novelty still made it worth having done once.
About 1/2 way through the movie, at a fairly critical point . . . the lights came on, and I remembered the "quaint" Egyptian habit of having an intermission during movies. Having drunk too much water and Pepsi, I decided that rather than be annoyed at the interruption I'd put it to good use, so I made a dash to the facilities. Deborah decided that since the theater was a little chilly for her liking, some hot chocolate was in order, and put in the order with the usher who came around with our bill, putting off the moment of reckoning.
Once everyone was back in their seats, the movie continued to its thrilling conclusion. Unfortunately, I missed a crucial moment because . . . the bill arrived. I would have thought it could have waited until the end, but no, once the hot chocolate was there, the waiter wanted to settle the bill immediately (I wonder how many people who'll pay 4x the going price to see a movie try to skip out on the food bill?). So, by the light of his cell phone, I read the bill (not much, if any, more than we would've paid at a restaurant), fished out the appropriate bills, and sent him on his way with a hushed "no change!" more to avoid another interruption than out of gratitude for the service (which was good, just poorly timed).
Once the movie was over, we headed back outside for the slightly-longer trip home, which was much more "exciting" and authentically Egyptian, due to the traffic jams, the lack of headlights (at 10:30 at night), and the parked cars and standing people which left barely enough room to squeeze by.
A couple of things (besides the seats and layout) that made the theater worth the extra price were the 1)lack of smoking in the theater and 2)lack of talking during the movie. Neither of these are a given when going to the movies in Egypt, so depending on other theaters in the area, Golden Stars may become the default for any movie that's showing there (there are only 4 "VIP" screens). We definitely know where we'll be for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" this fall (assuming it comes to Golden Stars). Maybe I'll try the pizza next time . . .
(We now return you to your regularly scheduled good blog posts by Deborah)