By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The curtains went up on a new experience Friday in Havre: five movies on the marquee at Havre's sole commercial theater.
After being closed for more than two months, Havre Cinemas I and II reopened as the Cottonwood Cinemas, with four auditoriums and a redesigned lobby.
Some customers were waiting expectantly Friday afternoon for the first public viewing of the new theaters.
Darlene Woods, waiting for the doors to be unlocked so she could buy a ticket to "The Passion of The Christ," said she had been peeking through the glass windows the last few months and was curious about what the new auditoriums would look like.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing them," she said.
The theater opened showing "Troy," "The Passion," "13 Going On 30," and, in Cinema 4, both "Home on the Range" and "Hidalgo."
Ticket prices went up, with matinees now $5 a ticket, up from $4.50, and shows after 5 p.m. costing $7 for an adult, formerly $6.75; $6.50 for students, formerly $6.25; and $5 for children 12 and under and seniors 65 and older, up 50 cents. Concession prices stayed the same.
The Havre theater is the first with four screens for owners Howard and Ayron Pickerill of Polson, who own nine Montana theaters and one in Salmon, Idaho.
Customers said seeing movies in the new theater was worth the wait during the remodeling.
"It's awesome. They really did a superb job," Peggy Verploegen said after the show. "I didn't think the seats could be so comfortable and the sound and picture so good. I've been wondering all spring how they were going to do this."
The customers also appreciated having more movies to choose from.
"It's pretty cool," said Steve Beaty, who was going to see "The Passion." "We'll finally be able to see more than two shows."
Manager Carilla French said she will be able to show a major new release every week, with "Shrek 2" opening Friday.
Ayron Pickerill said the times of the shows are staggered so people aren't all coming in at the same time. The times of each show are listed on a scrolling sign behind the concession stand.
Pickerill said her company added a new phone line, with one line just giving a recorded listing of shows and times and another line for the theater itself. The movie listings are at 265-4702, and the business line is 265-5467.
The two auditoriums were divided in half to create four theaters.
Cinemas 1 and 2 have what's known as easy-rise seating, with the seats on platforms across the auditorium with one step between the levels. Cinema 1 seats about 165 people, and the other three auditoriums each seat about 100.
Cinemas 3 and 4 have two steps between each platform and a steeper rise, an arrangement known as stadium seating in the theater business.
French said the auditoriums all have newly refurbished or newly purchased projectors and new surround-sound systems. The pictures will be brighter and clearer, partly because the projectors are closer to the screens, and the sound is much better, she said.
Abby Ehlert took her nephew, Brady Ophus, to see "Home on the Range." She said the new auditoriums were "pretty awesome," and she likes the stadium seating.
"It's nice to have the seats so little kids can see without sitting on your lap," she said. "We sat in the top."
The new seats in all of the auditoriums, each with a cup holder, put the reopening back a week. Pickerill said Polson Theatre Co. imported the seats, and they took about 10 days to go through U.S. Customs. Then, as they were about to be shipped to Havre, Teamsters in California went on strike and the Pickerills had to find alternate shippers. The last few seats were being installed Friday before the opening.
Tyler Dusek, 18, likes the new seats.
"It's comfy," he said, "soft and cozy like a fuzzy bunny."
The remodeled theaters are handicap-accessible, with spaces for wheelchair seating in each auditorium and headsets available for people with hearing impairments. The steps in each auditorium also have aisle lights.
Cottonwood Cinemas also has a unisex handicap-accessible bathroom, as well as new men's and women's rooms.
Suzi Grant, who dropped off daughters Brittany and Shana Grant to see "13 Going On 30," said she was coming back Saturday to go to another movie with the girls.
"They're trying to squeeze (all the movies) in this weekend," she said. "I don't think that's going to happen."
There were some glitches. Previews before "The Passion" stopped a couple of times before the movie started running smoothly. Employees also had trouble getting the computerized ticket sales and concession sales working properly. Pickerill said it's normal to have a few kinks on opening day.
"Everything seems to be running smoothly at the moment," she said about halfway through the first showings.
Pickerill said her company did little advertising about the premiere of the new theaters. She wanted people to "trickle in," giving the workers enough time to get used to the new system, although the customers were trickling in a little faster than she expected.
The theater now prints tickets listing the show and time of the show, allowing people to buy them in advance.
Luke Huberger came in about 3:15 p.m. to buy tickets for the 4:30 showing of "Troy." He said if a movie is popular enough, he will probably buy in advance again to avoid standing in line and to make sure he has a seat.
"It's nice to have more movies," he added.