As the customer backlash over Allocated Seating at Cineworld continues, I thought I'd try my luck at the Empire Cinema in Swindon last night.
Swindon is a strange town cinematically; when I moved down here in 2000 I used to go to Virgin Cinema, subsequently the UGC in West Swindon as opposed to the Cineworld at Greenbridge. As a UGC unlimited card holder I used to consume a fair few films, but drew that to a close after a few service issues and started going to Cineworld. Cineworld later took over the UGC chain which left them in the unusual position of having two cinemas in the town, and ultimately being the only cinema operator here. Due to our Fair Trading Laws, Cineworld were compelled to sell one of the cinemas to open up competition, however in what I felt was a surprise move, they kept the former UGC location and sold the Greenbridge cinema they custom built and fitted in 1999 to Empire Cinemas.
I always find it quite funny going into Cineworld here as there are still remnants of its former ownership (it was originally built by MGM Cinemas) and I always wonder whether, behind the scenes, there are still bits of old signage etc. Similarly, the Empire also still has remnants of its Cineworld past; the faded area on the facade where the Cineworld Star once shone brightly, and the screen numbers are still of the Cineworld star and ribbon type.
Having not been to the Empire for probably five years or so, my feelings on arrival were mixed. The carpet, although a replacement from the original, had seen better days, the box office had the glass windows removed, but stood derelict, clearly being used as storage for boxes (with no attempt to hide the fact). The concessions counter had been refurbished but seemed slightly clinical in its appearance and the large screen above the doors into the screens had been completely removed.
I had booked a premium seat in Screen 10, and frankly, I wish I hadn't. They seem to have put larger seats into stadium seating rows that were designed to accommodate standard seats which means that, although the seat is wider and the upholstery more plush in finish and quantity, legroom was lacking. This is a problem I've ever encountered in the Swindon Cineworld because it still uses arena style seating and there is plenty of room between rows.
The presentation also irked me somewhat. First off, the adverts and trailers were being shown in 1.85:1 and the screen masking wasn't drawn in; to top it off, whoever set the projector up had completely missed the need to set up the keystone correction which resulted in an irritatingly trapezoidal image on screen. Both issues weren't present in the main feature as that was being shown in 2.35:1 but I found it annoying as I'm a firm believer that event the adverts and trailers should be presented in the way the director intended. I've never seen these issues at Cineworld, although there is a quirk in Screen 4 where sometimes, there is a gap at the bottom of the screen during the adverts where the projector needs to be brought nose down a little. Sadly with the advent of digital and there being no need for a full time projectionist, such problems will probably never be fixed.
So Cineworld or Empire? I'm afraid that Cineworld wins. While they still have the occasional presentation faux-pas, the West Swindon site has by far better comfort and projection. It smells as though allocated seating may be here to say which is a great shame.