The Big Screen in Great Falls

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Saw “Inglourious Basterds” at the Carmike theatre on Saturday, and was definitely not disappointed. It was QT at his best, as usual. If you’re not a QT fan, there’s probably no point in trying to convince you to see it. If you ARE a QT fan, then you know what I’m talking about. It was, quite simply, awesomely stupendously amazingly amazing. Worth the wait!

And speaking of the movie theatre…got an e-mail from someone on Friday that read:

Just curious if you have any comments about the Tribune story talking about bats at the local theater. I think it’s pathetic that a town of this size has a such a low rent quality theater. My son and I go to the theater quite a bit and there are so many problems with the place I don’t know where to begin. Staff is poor, the movies don’t start on time, the signage at the theater is wrong, high prices, the list goes on and on. I’m now going to see more movies in Helena at the Cinemark theater. Christ… bats flying around in a movie theater. What a joke.

First, I’ll note that we did not see any bats at the theatre on Saturday afternoon. There was a public health warning posted on the door to the building about four of the auditoriums being closed due to confirmed bats or bat sightings. On a lark, I asked the ticket-seller if anyone had asked for tickets to see “Batman.” She was not very amused.

But regarding our Great Falls movie theatre: in my seven years here, I’ve been there perhaps two dozen times. Every time, I have appreciated the “stadium seating,” which is common nation-wide now, but still very much appreciated. Cup holders – nice tough, considering that it wasn’t so long ago that they were a novelty. Never had a problem with the actual viewing of the movie, either – sound, picture, lighting, etc. So on the few occasions that I do venture forth, I’m usually pretty happy with the actual movie-watching experience.

On the other hand…the snacks are over-priced – which is a given, but still ticks me off; the staff is almost always surly or bored or completely indifferent to the concept of “customer service”; the lines at the snack stand are ridiculous; and the quality of the popcorn varies between “tolerable” and “ack – can’t even eat it.”

And the coming attractions – unbelievable. Start time for Saturday’s showing was listed as 12:45, but the movie didn’t start until about 1:10. That’s nearly 25 minutes of previews and ads! They’ve got a captive audience, and take full advantage of it, unfortunately.

And the sad thing is that there’s no competition. There is no other choice in Great Falls. Granted, it could be worse — when I lived in Enid, Oklahoma about 10 years ago, the only game in town was a 60s-era theatre with flat seating and scuffed screens — so I appreciate that we have a modern movie house with nice seats and lighting and picture quality. But it sure would be great to have a nice movie theatre that actually cared about customer service, hired pleasant people who smiled, and served reasonably-priced snacks.

Again, I don’t hit the theatre too often — Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, an occasional super-hero flick — but when I do, it would be great if the entire experience was as awesome as the movie itself.



  1. David,

    I gotta agree with your e-mail friend there. This theater is absolutely terrible. I’ll give you one positive — they have a nice picture (the digital is nice). Yes, SOME of the screens are stadium seating but not all…the standard nowadays is all.

    The floors are hardly ever clean (although I admit it’s getting better). It would always amaze me that we couldn’t go sit in the theater because they were cleaning…then I’d walk in and my shoes would stick to the floors. Gross.

    My wife and I regularly have problems with the showings. They start late all the time (ridiculous). I’ve also had them start wrong movies, have no sound to the movie, have a green line across the screen, and have have the picture on the ceiling. It’s like the kids who work there press play and take off without even making sure it starts correctly.

    The prices of tickets are high I think. Not necessarily compared to the rest of the country — everywhere is expensive these days. I think the price is high compared to the service I’m getting. You hit the nail on the head => they know they are the only game in town and act accordingly.

    My wife and I actually do drive to Helena to their downtown theater — fewer screens but much better facilities and customer service. Yes, it could be worse — we could have no theater…however it would be nice if they put a little effort into this one.

  2. That’s how Carmike works. They operate in cities like Great Falls where they’re the only game in town so they don’t have to put too much work into a good theater-going experience. They used to have theaters in Helena and Bozeman, too, but as soon as another company opened up screens in those towns, Carmike shut down because it would cost too much to compete on quality. If someone built a modern theater here in Great Falls, I’m pretty confident they’d be given the chance to buy up the Marketplace within a few months.

    Over the last few years my experiences with Carmike in Great Falls have included (but are not limited to):

    • Buckets placed in seats to catch the rain water

    • The stupid signboard in the lobby that has almost never been accurate in 10 years. When it indicates that a movie is “now seating” patrons move forward to have their tickets taken, only to be told that the movie isn’t actually open. The constant refrain from the employees: “It does that on its own; we can’t control it.” You can’t turn it off? When did it achieve self-awareness?

    • When attending “Star Trek” earlier this summer with my son, the cleaning lights came on a few minutes before the movie ended. Not the regular lights –the high-power sodium vapor cleaning lights that completely wash out the screen. During the CLIMACTIC SCENES!

  3. OK, I can’t comment on the Carmike, but as a former movie theater employee there are a few things I can: The theater has very little control over ticket prices, those are mostly set by industry, and since we continue to pay for movies with higher and higher budgets, the prices will continue to go up. The theater CAN add a bit more on (I don’t remember the percentage or if it still works on a percent system). Because they don’t make money on the ticket prices (the studio does), concession prices are always going to be high. The projection booth is not a row of DVD players, it’s a row of actual projectors and the film is fed through a brain in the center of a platter to the projector (I suppose the Carmike could have spool boxes, but the point is the same), if they started a movie late, and you’re waiting to see the next showing, they cannot stop the previous movie to let you seat (I think that’s what you meant AJ, but if not, didn’t mean to prattle on).

    Most of the other things you guys are mentioning sound like human error (stupidity), and poor management (stupidity). The picture of the Carmike in Great Falls that I found online looks like a relatively newer building, is this true?

  4. Ah, I remember when Great Falls had 3 theaters. The Twilight, Cine 4 and Village Twin. I can’t say all of my experiences with the Carmike have been bad, but every time I’ve been there in the past couple years, it’s been horrible.

  5. Why do people continue to go when the experience is so bad? Yes it is the only theater in town, but you can always wait for the DVD, go to another town, or even wait until it airs on cable. When you start to effect their bottom line, things will change.
    I have also been told at one time by a Carmike employee that if you have a complaint about your experience and you express it before half of the movie is over, they will refund your ticket.

  6. Good point, K3v72. That is one of the reasons that I so rarely venture forth to the movie theatre. 99% of all movies are not “big-screen worthy” and can be watched on TV with no degradation of the experience.

    But for some movies – Tarantino, Iron Man, a few others – initial viewing just can’t be beat on a big screen.

    Thankfully, I’m a movie snob and don’t have to endure the movie-going experience very often 🙂

  7. My son and I go to a lot of movies. The theater in town is horrible.
    My wife, son and I recently went to Billings for the weekend and went
    to the new Carmike theater there (Shiloh Crossing 14). If you want to
    see a tent pole studio movie (for instance; the upcoming Avatar)…
    I highly recommend you plan a trip to Billings and see the movie there.
    I’m going to Helena for the next film I really want to see (Cinemark
    Theater). A note… the 70th anniversary of the Wizard of Oz is this
    year, and Warner Brothers? is going to re-release the movie to select
    theaters across the nation. Helena, believe it or not, is going to show
    the movie at the Cinemark. The movie has been completely remastered
    (picture, sound, etc). It’s showing on Sept. 23rd at 7:00.

  8. Has anyone actually ever seen an adult working for Carmike? It seems like the kids that work there have no manager direction on customer service….if there is an adult working there, he/she is hiding out in the back somewhere.

  9. – Tim P

    I’ve seen a couple of guys in their early 30s working there… appear to be some sort
    of management. I haven’t seen them at every movie I’ve been too.

  10. Courtney, the Carmike here has digital projection, not the old platter system (I used to be a projectionist back in the late cretaceous period and had the great fun of running those things). It’s closer to having a row of DVD players. In any case, that’s not what I’m talking about. If, for whatever reason, they’ve started a movie late, they should adjust whatever supercomputer 😉 they have running their lobby sign. But they don’t. They simply offer platitudes about how it’s not their fault it’s wrong. And on an individual basis it isn’t their fault; it’s an institutional failure on the part of Carmike’s regional and national management in not training their employees to do everything in their power to make sure a scheduled event begins on schedule, and to make sure that mistakes are anomalous, not par for the course.

    Another Carmike anecdote: a few years back when the other theaters were still open, I noticed that some small holes in the walls at one of them had actually been repaired, but that the filling didn’t quite match the paint. No big deal, but something about it looked really weird, so I took a closer look at what they’d used to repair the holes. Yep, it was toothpaste.

  11. I am dissapointed that none of the coming attractions are posted even though the carmike 10 website says they are. the concession stand is a joke as a person has to stand in unbelievably long lines to get the extremely over priced concessions that they sell. two people working at the concession stands is ridiculous. there are two sides and only one is open. the employees seem to want to be somewhere else all of the time and the theaters themselves are dirty and the floors feel as though they were mopped with the spilled pop. the list goes on and on.

  12. Am I an ‘expert’ in theater management? No, but I have been in many different types of theaters, from small towns in Sanders County, to the Carmike and IMAX theaters around Seattle, WA. I won’t blame JUST the theater, but there’s a lot to be desired with the movie-going experience here in Great Falls.

    The cost of food and drinks is ABSURD, especially for the giant boxes of candy that are 80% air and cardboard, and the stale popcorn that tastes like packing-peanuts in olive oil.

    If the staff is not physically absent, then they usually are mentally. But I can’t complain too much about them because I never see any other employees outside of the ticket-booth attendant, the ticket-tearer-upper, and the one or two kids manning the snack shack. God forbid I actually see a cleaning crew or a few ushers.

    Walking through the rows of seats is an adventure in itself; navigating around the sticky puddles of spilled pop from the previous night is like transversing a minefield while wearing clown shoes. So you manage to keep your shoes clean only to finally plop into a seat and feel something seeping into your right buttcheek. Very classy.

    But I honestly blame the whole condition of the theater on THE MOVIE GOERS. Theaters are losing money and can’t afford to hire/train employees or keep up maintenance because fewer people are actually going to theaters nowadays. Why do people choose to ‘wait for the DVD’ or download films? Because of all of the morons you have to watch the movie with.

    I can’t stand going to see movies mostly because of all the people around me ruin the experience. Every time I try to see a movie there’s always guys explaining the plot to their brain-dead girlfriends, people Riffing the movie in the back row, and the stupid asses who have to text and/or Twitter in the middle of a film so that all four of their friends can know: “I AM @ TEH MOVIEZ! NEED 2 BUY MILK ON WAY HOME.”

    Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll wait for the DVD or download a video-capture from the internet. Then I can enjoy a movie in the comfort and cost-effectiveness of my own home, rather than spend $20 to ruin clothing, be miserable, and lose even more of my faith in humanity.

    Someone who spent last night reading “A Catcher in the Rye”

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