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Grand opening of Ultrastar Cinemas in Anaheim GardenWalk

Dress-ups Jack Sparrow and Thor duke it out with Harry Potter (already on the floor!)

By Michael Buss, 2011-05-13
GardenWalk certainly needs a shot in the arm. Always in the shadow of its sister attraction, Downtown Disney, the artsy shopping precinct has largely failed to attract a significant number of vendors to the inner spaces. Of course, the eating houses that face on to Katella Blvd see booming business.

Now with the grand opening of UltraStar theaters at the top end of GardenWalk there is a real chance to turn that around.

This 14 screen multiplex boasts the most technologically advanced theaters in the entire USA. Every movie comes to you downloaded digitally by satellite. No more embarrassing crackles and flashes. The sound system has more speakers than any other movie theatre. Depending on the particular theatre you are in you may be in D-Box seats that actually move with the onscreen action. From other theaters you may order food and have it delivered to your seat!

GardenWalk General Manager Peter Houck says their aim is customer service. This is why moms may soon bring their kids to morning movies where the audience lighting remains ON and the kids are allowed to run around.

If the quality of the movie-going experience lives up to expectation this location will bring in tens of thousands of customers to GardenWalk. This should encourage the opening of more shops and bring greater numbers into the very fine dining establishments already there.

UltraStar has high hopes of providing a new kind of movie night out. There is a restaurant and bar, a comfortable lounge, sumptuous decor.

The opening itself spared no expense. Guests were treated to a red carpet experience complete with video interviews. The Cabana Boys jazz band washed the terraces with great music. Some 200 guests had arrived when PBS host Maria Hall-Brown took the stage to introduce the various personalities responsible for realizing the dream of opening the new cinema. They trailed across the stage to make their brief speeches.

Chamber President Todd Ament, beaming with pleasure

The light relief proved to be a number of "dress-ups". Captain Jack Sparrow entertained us with a funny conflict with Harry Potter whose spells seemed useless against the charm of Cap'n Jack. Then the pair were completely upstaged by Thor, the god of war, with his plastic hammer. Three of them variously tested their martial arts on each other until, as suitable for the occasion Thor triumphed.

Wherever you looked suited and heeled members of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce sported their badges. Chamber president Todd Ament beamed genially over the procedings. The City Council duly turned out Mayor Tom Tait and a few other councilors. Many Anaheim organizations were represented including the Anaheim Arts Council.

Mayor Tom Tait recalled watching The Three Stooges
when he was a kid

The event did us proud with a hosted bar and an almost endless supply of finger foods. As time ticked towards 7pm people wended their way into theatre 1 for the 3-D experience of the weekend blockbuster, Thor!

The general décor of the cinema, while modern, is attractively augmented with framed artwork. The lounge and bar area lends itself to group relaxation with food and drinks before a show. In fact it would be quite possible to rent space here for mid-sized functions and then make private use of a theatre.

Tens of thousands of people live within the GardenWalk catchment. The plan is to market this place, and the entertainment quality of this technologically advanced destination, to draw the crowds and finally give GardenWalk the lift it needs.

Wally Schlotter and Sandy Moul

All due credit should go to VP of special projects Wally Schlotter and publicist Sandy Moul for the leadership and direction they gave to the UltraStar vision.

And now the movie experience itself. I sat with a couple of hundred people in the main theatre to watch Thor on the massive screen. Apart from knowing there IS a digital difference in the quality of the movie presentations it will take a little longer to perceive exactly how that difference comes over to the theatre-goer, I have to say that the theatres feel good. The atmosphere is something new. The sadness is that on leaving I saw the same old disregard for cinemas I see everywhere else – people just seem to think it’s acceptable to toss their pop-corn and other trash on the floor.

All the great promised movie premieres of the summer season will be at UltraStar. I normally head of to the Block at Orange to watch movies. But in future I’ll be coming to GardenWalk.

The spacious gallery and lounge.
The bar, unseen, is at the back of this picture.

All photos. Copyright, Michael Buss, 2011



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