A sneak peek at the silver screens

Ever since the new Century Theatres opened in Evanston last November, I’ve been hearing story after story about long lines, packed theaters and people lining up to buy tickets for 7 p.m. movies at noon.

When I went down to check it out for myself last Sunday afternoon, the lines were relatively small — three people to each of the six ticket windows — and only one movie had sold out. But that didn’t make the environment any less captivating.

When I first stepped off the towering escalator and into the lobby, I was shocked by the sheer size of the marquee. The huge red digital letters made me feel more like I should be checking to see if my flight was on time than choosing a movie. In the airplane-hangar-sized room, the movie titles and times swam on a huge reproduction of the Century Theatres’ bright logo, which features colorful movie tickets and film reels.

Coming from a small town, I’m delighted by the variety of a multiplex — at home I could only choose between a four-screen complex and a giant drive-in. Here, I watched everyone from hip high schoolers to single senior citizens stream in and out of the plethora of arena-esque theaters.

I focused on the six-screen CineArts side of the theater first, where the one sell-out of the day had occurred: “Finding Forrester.” Now, certainly “Chocolat” fits the requirements for an “art film,” and I’ll even believe “State and Main.” But you can’t convince me that “Finding Forrester” and “Thirteen Days” have any business being CineArts films.

The two ticket-takers at CineArts reassured me that the more independent movies — “Chocolat,” “Quills” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” — are three of the most popular CineArts films. Even as she spoke with me, ticket-taker Yvonne Kirkwood neatly ripped through a stack of six “Crouching Tiger” tickets and handed them back to the entering group. “Wow. You could rip a phone book in half!” exclaimed one customer.

I retreated to the main portion of the theaters, the Century 12, which houses not only more mainstream movies like “What Women Want” and “Save the Last Dance” but also critically-acclaimed films like “Traffic” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Surprisingly, I’m told that the latter movie, in addition to “Crouching Tiger” and “Chocolat,” have been three of the theater’s most frequent sell-outs. Maybe people do have taste.

Speaking of taste, I had to check out the snack bar. Actually, “bar” doesn’t quite fit the description. The Café Cinema takes up nearly one-third of the huge room that leads to the Century 12 theaters, and a scrolling marquee serves up promises of Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, gourmet pastries and freshly brewed espresso. I was suitably impressed.

Candy-vendor Derrick Marcus told me that the theater generally sells one full box (at least 24 separate units) of each different kind of candy every day with Twizzlers and chocolate-covered almonds claiming the top spots. The bulk candy the theater offers also has been a big seller, he added, with people mixing and matching their own sour watermelon slices and Swedish fish.

I sat down at one of the black lacquer tables next to the cash registers and saw the Century Theatres’ logo — everywhere. The logo was even abstractly reflected in the carpet, which includes the same bright orange, red, blue, green and purple and mixes circles, spiral designs and real, live crunched popcorn. Employees periodically try to extract the popcorn shards with a frighteningly large device that looks like a lawnmower with a car-wash brush attached to the front, but it didn’t seem to pick up the popcorn so much as buff it further into the ground.

The Century Theatres’ design even adorns the outside of the popcorn popper, producing the possibly accidental but nonetheless cool appearance of freshly popped popcorn erupting from between the holes of the film reel. I moved closer and watched, totally mesmerized, as the kernels rose above the frosted design. This had to be more riveting than “What Women Want.” Deloise Henigan, the self-proclaimed world’s best popcorn popper, manned the machine.

“We sell over $1,000 of popcorn a day, ” Henigan said. “From the bottom to the top, you can look at it and see it’s fresh,” she added, as I watched her sweep the new kernels into the long glass cases.

“I give it to my people just the way they want it, too — heavy butter, light butter, medium butter, plain. And I always greet my customers,” she said, rushing off to fill an order for one small bag of plain movie popcorn.

Before I left the theater, I had to treat myself to a taste of this popcorn. After Henigan’s endorsement, how could I refuse? And sure enough, the kernels were fresh (though not warm, since I declined the hot movie butter) and delicious. Just as I’d been promised. nyou

Medill freshman Kimra McPherson is an nyou writer. She can be reached at [email protected].