Cinema takes adventurous turn

A slump in movie theater ticket sales this past year has sounded alarm bells in the business as more people chose to watch films on scheduled television programming or on their DVD players. The rapid development of home entertainment, in front of a high-resolution plasma television, has been siphoning money from the movie theater industry into electrical appliance shops and DVD rental stores. Home cinema systems are also becoming more commonplace in Greek households at a time when most Greeks are watching their pennies. The trend is here and it looks like it’s here to stay. This month, the United States will see the launch of new, high-quality DVDs; soon enough, these will reach Europe, too. The home entertainment industry is developing at a rapid pace, heralding even fewer ticket sales for movie theaters. The big theater industry has reacted to this shift in trends and since last week the public has been able to witness the strategy being used by the defense at the Odeon Cineplex on Syngrou Avenue. Inside the Odeon Starcity complex, the company has opened Cinema Park, an educational and entertainment-oriented program that is intended to make a splash with the public. What exactly is Cinema Park and how does it differ from the conventional movie theater? Cinema Park is a clever patent by an Israeli, Ori Yardeni, and it is making its appearance in Europe for the first time. First tested on an audience in Israel, its success was so great that it was then used in Ankara and Disneyland. In Athens, there are five specially equipped theaters where the audience can participate in four-hour educational programs based on themes such as outer space, the environment, the human body etc, using all five senses to maximize the experience. How? The Action Room, for example, has smart seats. While they appear to be ordinary cinema seats, they move according to the motion on screen, and emit smells and background sounds such as running water or wind. One virtual journey on offer is «Imagineering,» which is a journey through the architectural wonders of the world, where the audience can get an in-depth look at the fantastic monuments erected by man, fly over a field of wildflowers (the aroma of which pervades the theater) and cross a turbulent river. The effect is heightened by water droplets released from the back of the seat in front of viewer. Earlier this month, the Athens Cinema Park held a special screening for the press and the students of a local school. The scene was indescribable and not just because the kids were sitting in a cinema rather than behind a school desk. The spectacle and its interactive character had them spellbound and the fact that the screenings are educational just makes the appeal of Cinema Park even greater. In Turkey, the waiting list for visiting schools soon overshot all early expectations. This appeal is hardly surprising as the programs are all tailor-made for young audiences. That is not to say, however, that they cannot engage adults too. The complex also has other programs, such as «The Human Journey,» which takes children on an interactive tour of human evolution, and the Music Room, where kids can hop around to the beat of the human heart. The overall experience begins in the 3-D Room, where the human body is brought to life in all its dimensions. Then there’s the Fantasy Room, which focuses on the imagination and aural perception where children can relax and open their minds to new experiences – in this case the fascinating adventures of a 15-year-old skipper who circumnavigated the world on his own. In the Play Room, each member of the audience has a wireless answer panel and participates in a question-and-answer show. Cinema Park is a clear response to the flagging movie theater industry. According to Odeon Cineplex director Makis Diamandopoulos, «the cost of building a multiplex cinema in this day and age is nowhere near negligible. At the same time though, you realize that this significant investment has a life for just a few hours of any given day – especially during the week. The theaters are either in the dark, or under-attended well into the afternoon. At Cinema Park, you can use the theaters during the morning hours in a way that suits their regular function while also providing a very attractive option to the public.» Independently of how the Israeli patent will fare in Greece, one thing is certain: Film production as it stands today seems unable to keep existing movie theaters in business. And if home cinema really brings the theater into the living room, then cinema theater owners are determined to get the public off the couch, even it takes a water pistol. Foundation leads the way in innovation The market for interactive educational experiences is growing in Greece, spearheaded by the Foundation of the Hellenic World, which began showing interactive films, mostly historical, in the mid-1990s. Today, the foundation is close to completing construction on its second digital center, broadening the variety of events it has on offer to the public. The Dome, as it is known, looks a lot like a planetarium but will not be used as such, according to the foundation’s head. It will in fact operate more like a Cinema Park. The architectural study for the new venue was carried out by Giorgos Andreadis, Yiannis Tsiomis and Natalia Efraimoglou.