Vancouver’s Cinetopia, with its fine food, wine and cushy seats, may be the nation’s most luxurious, high-tech theater

Thursday, August 18, 2005
by SHAWN LEVY
The Oregonian

You’re reclining in a leather chair, eating slices of grilled Kobe-Wagyu beef, and watching ” Star Wars: Episode III” in stunning high-definition digital projection with one of the most advanced sound systems in the world.

You’re sipping a sublime glass of vintage wine in an even more comfortable leather chair and watching the quirky English film “Ladies in Lavender.”

No, you have not won the lottery and turned your home into a paradise of fine food, wine and cinema.

Rather, you have discovered movie heaven.

And it’s in Vancouver , USA .

Cinetopia , a combination film multiplex, gourmet restaurant, wine bar and art gallery, opened just off Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard and Interstate 205 in late July, and it is instantly the most luxurious, technologically advanced and, frankly, astounding theater in the area, the region, maybe even the country.

The complex consists of eight theaters and a restaurant, Vinotopia. In one place, you can see some of the best films playing in the market, eat some ambitious and accomplished food, sample more than 100 bottles of wine — including the rarest of vintages — by the glass, peruse (and perhaps buy) original works of art that hang where other theaters slap movie posters, and generally walk around slack-jawed and pinching yourself to remember that you’re at the movies.

This fantasia of food, wine, art and cinema is the dream-come-true of Rudyard Coltman, a Portland attorney who has previously operated traditional movie theaters in Burns and Baker City . The 37-year-old Coltman is a film aficionado who speaks with equal zeal and knowledge about the films of Ingmar Bergman and the ” Star Wars” saga, and he has long fantasized presenting the finest movies in the finest setting.

“I’ve grown up with a lifetime of subpar presentations,” he explains. “People who appreciate film should be able to see it in the best condition. Most movie complexes have a sterile, uninspiring atmosphere. I knew there could be more.”

A nearly $10 million investment

Coltman spent several years determining what it would cost to acquire land and build the theaters and restaurant to his exacting specifications. He selected Vancouver because it was underserved in both high-end dining and access to specialty films. And he demanded that his architects and equipment vendors go beyond the norm to create ideal viewing spaces.

Even though movie attendance nationwide is declining, Coltman poured nearly $10 million into the project because he sensed he could lure audiences that had given up on going to the theater.

“So many people have stopped coming to the movies, partly because the experience has become more unpleasant,” he says. “We want those people to come back to the movies.”

Cinetopia is a heck of a lure. The complex consists of eight auditoriums — one of just under 300 seats, four others closer to 100 in capacity, and three “Living Room Theaters” that hold about 65 viewers each. All of them sport oversized, fully reclining leather chairs. The rise from one level to another is higher than in other multiplexes. The space between rows — the distance that the guy behind you needs to reach to kick your seat — is much greater, enhancing your sense of physical isolation and connection to the screen.

Only one auditorium sports a high-definition projector, but all of Cinetopia’s theaters have pricey Klipsch sound systems, and the one in the big theater is, according to the company’s Web site, the most sophisticated theatrical sound system on sale anywhere. In all theaters, little touches contribute to the experience: exit signs are unobtrusively placed beyond the line of sight, and the walls are doubly thick to prevent people watching the hushed “March of the Penguins” from overhearing the climactic battle of ” Star Wars” just next door.

It’s all swell, but the Living Rooms truly dazzle. Coltman could have stuck twice as many seats in these theaters, but he has instead spread the cozy chairs and ottomans around in such a way that you feel as if you and your companions are watching the film from a private skybox like those at the Rose Garden.

The Living Rooms aren’t meant for kids: after 4 p.m. , admission is restricted to those 21 and older, and tickets cost $10 during the day and $13.50 in the evening. (Ticket prices in the other theaters are $7 and $9.50.) But for the quality of presentation you get — and, more importantly, for what you don’t get (blotchy images, scratchy sound, noise, kids. . . .) — it’s a fair price.

Coltman is determined to find films that are worthy of the display cases he’s created: As of press time, Cinetopia is showing a number of the best small films in release (including “Hustle and Flow,” “March of the Penguins,” and “Howl’s Moving Castle “), plus ” Star Wars” to show off the high-definition technology and advanced sound system. He makes clear that “we don’t want to be pigeonholed as an art house,” and he’s willing to stand up to the region’s movie powerhouse, Regal Cinemas of Knoxville, Tenn., to get prints of the best films, no matter how big or small they may be.

More than a movie

Equally important to the film experience at Cinetopia is the food. At the concession stand, along with the expected Goobers and Red Vines, Cinetopia offers gourmet pizzas made in-house, popcorn with homemade flavored butters (garlic, almond, four-cheese), and a rotating selection of hot dishes: lasagna, chili, sweet-and-sour pork and so on. All of this food can be taken into any of the auditoriums on specially designed trays that snap into the cup holders in the oversized arm rests.

In the restaurant, which is as posh and professional as anything in downtown Portland , chef Alan Lake serves a menu of small plates with high quality ingredients and great variety: sashimi, short ribs, a lamb burger, wild mushroom strudel, carpaccio, Dungeness crab, traditional tapas. Again, you can order this food to eat in the theaters, or you can dine indoors — on an outdoor patio, around a fireplace or in a private room.

If for nothing else, Cinetopia would be worth visiting just for the wines. Coltman has invested in an Italian Enomatic serving system that makes it possible for more than 100 bottles to be opened and remain fresh for up to three months, allowing customers to order in single-ounce increments. Want to try that legendary Opus One, Leonetti or Mondavi Reserve? An ounce may run as much as $16.50, but you can have a taste from that $200 bottle that might otherwise elude you. For less-expensive wines, a full glass can cost as little as $6.

This sounds like a press release, I know: perfect theaters, wonderful food, a dizzying selection of wines, art on the walls. But there is nothing like this anywhere in the Portland area or, as far as I know, the world.

I have been in executive screening rooms on every back lot in Hollywood . I have seen movies at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and in the poshest multiplexes in New York , London , Paris , San Francisco and Los Angeles .

And I am here to tell you this: Cinetopia is the most amazing movie theater I have ever seen.

Shawn Levy: (503) 221-8332; shawnlevy@news. oregonian.com

©2006 The Oregonian