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Movie Palaces Up The Ante In Carmel Valley

Cinepolis' first entry into the U.S. market is an 8-plex in Carmel Valley.

Photo by Pat Finn / KPBS News

Above: Cinepolis' first entry into the U.S. market is an 8-plex in Carmel Valley.

I guarantee that a visit to the brand-new Cinepolis multi-plex in Carmel Valley (Del Mar Highlands Town Center on Del Mar Heights Road) will cause you to use the term “Taj Mahal.”

There’s a full bar in the lobby listing more wines (18 red; 16 white; two sparkling, including Dom Perignon) than most restaurants; theater seats more luxurious than on a transcontinental first-class flight; the “concierge,” where you choose which recliner you want when you plunk down your $19.50; and a bunch of other luxuries (fresh sushi, seven kinds of popcorn, barrista-made cappuccino, Angus beef sliders, waiter service in the theaters, Clase Azul Reposado tequila). “Taj Mahal” is, in this case, not much of an exaggeration .

Two of the eight theaters are equipped for 3D. The movies during my visit were regular summer fare: “Captain America,” “Horrible Bosses,” “Cars 2,” “Transformers,” “Harry Potter” and “Friends with Benefits.” At 11 a.m., the least-costly time, a family of 4 would pay $58.00 ($15.50 for adults; $13.50 for kids) to watch one of these stellar studio productions and that’s without even a $4.75 box of Junior Mints -- which you can get, by the way.

So who thought up this idea? Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas is the largest chain of movie theaters in Latin America. It also has theaters in India, and, as of Friday, July 22, 2011, in San Diego. The company’s website says it will open theaters in La Costa and Laguna Niguel soon.

General Manager Antonio Garcia said Cinepolis chose Carmel Valley because it had the right demographics. Since neighboring communities include Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch, I suppose that’s true.

In this country, we are not strangers to the idea of seeing films in plush surroundings. Hundreds of huge, ornate, faux-baroque movie houses were built in the U.S. in the teens and 1920s. They had air-conditioning, plush seats, and live entertainment along with the feature films, cartoons, newsreels, previews and serials. The average ticket price in 1926, for, say, Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, was $.25, about $3.10 today, according to the Consumer Price Index. $3.10 is a cost many could -- and perhaps would -- bear for “Captain America.”

I can picture the rich of Columbia, Mexico or India, where the wealth-gap is enormous, heading off to a theater that 99% of their country couldn’t afford. But I have more trouble seeing the Cinepolis version of the palatial cinema concept catching on here long-term, even though our own gap is growing daily. The rich may be getting richer, but do enough of them go to the movies?

True, once American movie theaters are built, they are rarely renovated or even thoroughly cleaned, so I can appreciate the wonderful lack of sticky floors, and the utter niceness of the whole experience. But would I make it a habit? I doubt it.

I’ll probably pay the already-outrageous $12.00 somewhere else, grit my teeth at the conversation going on next to me, nosh on my $5 “buttered” popcorn and keep my purse on my lap.

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