We were recently invited to look around the latest Dolby Cinema installation, which is coming to the Odeon Leicester Square later this month.
It’s a really interesting project for Dolby and, of course, for Odeon - which wanted to reinvent its flagship screen as a Luxe cinema - complete with Luxe recliner or Luxe Classic seating.
Peeling back the layers of this historic 1937 building has taken time as you can see from our picture gallery above.
The cinema originally closed in January after the premiere of The Post and will be reopening on Friday 21 December with Mary Poppins Returns (you can book tickets now).
Huge amounts of asbestos were taken out – which an architect hinted had delayed the project - and 70 tonnes of steelwork has gone in to make the building and ceilings stronger and to carry the weight of the 410 Dolby Atmos speakers to be installed around the single, two-tier auditorium (complete with 10 miles of super-thick speaker cabling).
Our pictures were taken a mere three weeks before opening and we couldn’t quite believe that the project would be finished in time.
Glass sheets were being added to the new front Oscars bar above the entrance and leading into the second tier, while the auditorium itself had very little final surfacing applied and had full-height scaffolding in place until the day before.
The entrance hall looked like a building yard and no facilities were complete. 200 workers are on site 24 hours a day during December.
The first UK Dolby Cinema
There are now 185 Dolby Cinema installations across the globe, but this will be the first in the UK. Chris Kukshtel from Dolby: “We want to make sure we’re there at the beginning to design the room. With this [installation] there are two tiers and the room is massive.
It’s a different proposition from designing a Dolby Cinema from scratch. “A classic Dolby Cinema would start with a blank box but here we’re making an iconic building as good as it can be. It’s an iconic piece of architecture so there was no pressure whatsoever!”
This project required a lot more planning because of the second tier and because of the theatre-style shape of the auditorium.
As well as Dolby Atmos sound, a key component of Dolby Cinema is Dolby Vision HDR and we were shown this in action in a small cinema scenario at Dolby’s own screening room elsewhere in Central London.
The images do indeed look stunning and there was plenty of definition in the darker scenes we saw. To reduce the amount of light reflected back onto the screen and affecting the picture, most seats in Dolby Cinemas are black.
Odeon is adding a lot more digital technology into the cinema, so you’ll be able to order food and drink via your phone while some customers will also have an at-seat service. Dolby says one of the ideas behind Dolby Cinema installations is that there’s no such thing as a bad seat.
Seats vary in price
However as you can see below, the seats at the back of the top tier are 30 metres from the screen and so are cheaper. Prices vary depending on location within the screen and are more expensive in the evenings and seemingly even more expensive on the first day of opening.
Off-peak, seats range from £10.75 for the furthest-away standard Luxe seats to £20.75 for the best Luxe recliner seats in the stalls.
At the most expensive times - say the first day of opening - the cheapest tickets remain the same while in the stalls things start to get a bit ridiculous, up to £25.75 for the cheapest stalls ticket and a whopping £40.75 for the best. On other evenings, the most expensive seat is £35.75.
The second-tier will also have better accessibility (accessed via two new lifts) and there’s a sloped ramp into the auditorium – the architect who accompanied our tour told us that a six-foot-high steel girder had caused an issue here and the only solution was to raise the entire floor of the Oscars bar at the rear of the circle.
Original features and fewer seats
Many original features have been retained such an orchestra pit for live events and the historic Compton organ – also beneath the stage. The national anthem is played on the organ for royal premieres. A real Royal Box area has also been able to be created.
The screen will also be able to move forward and back for live events.
Odeon says that the number of seats has been reduced in the new auditorium but that this isn’t an issue as the previous screen was rarely full. There are 21 Odeon Luxe cinemas at present and the firm says that usage has gone up at the other locations when they have been converted to Luxe auditoriums.
Dolby had to work hard to ensure sound doesn’t leak out of the auditorium – there’s a hotel behind the cinema, so it was crucial that guests wouldn’t be able to hear bass coming from the venue.
The solution is a steel box being constructed behind the screen that’s a room within a room. Kukshtel says that bass is also always matched to the auditorium in a Dolby Cinema, so it isn’t too much for the room. Acoustic panelling is also being installed on all walls around the room.
The projection is also completely bespoke with dual modified Christie laser projectors due to go in that are custom-built for Dolby Vision.
Even the glass for the projection porthole (below) is specific to Dolby Cinema. The older projection equipment has also been retained.
Odeon Luxe Leicester Square opens on 21 December with Mary Poppins Returns.