Monday, March 30, 2009

Review: The 'Watchmen' Experience

My beloved spousal unit, a fan of imaginative science fiction and graphic novels in books and cinema, wanted to see Watchmen, the film adaptation of the highly touted, darkly graphic, flawed-superhero series created by D.C. Comics innovator Alan Moore, before the movie closed. I suggested we catch it today, a Sunday afternoon in late March.

Timing was everything. We needed a location and starting time that would allow us to return home in time to catch the last two games of the NCAA hockey regionals, which we've been enjoying on ESPN2 and ESPNU. Having seen Boston University skate past Denver skillfully and energetically during the regular season, we were hardly surprised that BU became a leading contender to make it into the Frozen Four. (As it turned out, they defeated New Hampshire later in the day to qualify.)

More surprising during the tournament was that Notre Dame was eliminated by spirited upstart Bemidji State, a 5,000-student campus in the Iron Range of Minnesota, in the first round. In fact, Bemidji State made it all the way to the Frozen Four, to be held in Washington, D.C., becoming the lowest tournament seed (#16) ever to qualify for college hockey's ultimate prize. We were equally impressed with Miami (OH) and Vermont, the other Frozen Four semifinalists, and also congratulate a plucky, well-conditioned Air Force squad for giving Vermont a two-overtime run for its money in the regional finals. Both New Hampshire and Minnesota-Duluth scored thrilling, last-second victories in the regionals as well. It's been an amazing tournament that's kept us on the edge of our seats and rejuvenated my interest in the college game.

Also interesting was watching part of yesterday afternoon's games at the ESPN Zone restaurant in downtown Denver, located on the 16th Street pedestrian mall. My beloved spousal unit's birthday had been earlier in the week, on Thursday, but due to the snowstorm that hit Colorado's Front Range we didn't get out that day. But on Saturday, at her request -- she's an avid sports fan; lucky me! -- we took the light rail into the city and walked along the mall a few blocks to the sports bar and restaurant.

ESPN Zone is a theme/destination eatery, analogous to a Hard Rock Cafe for music lovers. The entire experience is organized around the multiple sports events on numerous television screens around the interior, including one enormous screen with the featured broadcast in the main room. We knew that the college basketball would claim the large screen -- indeed, we saw Connecticut advance to the Final Four while we were there -- but neither of us had to strain to see side screens showing the college hockey. We enjoyed parts of two games on the ice, along with our cheese fries appetizer, entrees and drinks. We could have done without the pushy, grinning waiter, however; what is it with these fools who think they have to bother you every five minutes to see if everything is okay? Particularly irritating was that, in the middle of our meal, he came up and asked us three times if we were saving room for dessert. Hey pal, we didn't answer in the affirmative the first two times; would you kindly take a hint? Overall, however, the experience was a treat and a rare indulgence -- although I'd happily relinquish a few of the television screens for control of the big screen's remote!

So anyway, having decided on a theater and time -- we were happy to see that the first Watchmen showing of the day at the Landmark Theater in nearby Greenwood Village, CO was parenthesized in the newspaper listings, indicating a discount show -- we parked and approached the theater. It's one of those new, upscale movie complexes, eponymously named after the adjacent luxury condo development in the south suburbs of Denver. I suppose this kind of mixed-use development makes good economic sense, if the condo units can be sold, although a more utilitarian example of the New Urbanism would feature some more affordable housing units, as well as closer proximity to the light rail or major bus lines.

As it turns out, we didn't have to shop for a condo to experience The Landmark's stratospheric economic aspirations. "Would you like the V.I.P. seating?" said the box office manager. He explained that, for three dollars more per person, we could sit in special seats and have the privilege of being served food and drinks -- at least for the next five minutes until the previews started. No thanks, we indicated. "Okay. That's eighteen dollars." I handed over my credit card, but also asked about the early show discount that we'd seen advertised in the Sunday paper. "This is the discount show. It's normally twelve dollars." Oh. "Thanks, guys. Theater Three, on your left. You can enjoy the complimentary popcorn and drinks, right over there."

So that's the new business model, I thought. Sell a six dollar ticket for nine dollars, and give the illusion of offering free snacks. Oh well; at least we're not paying New York or L.A. prices. We helped ourselves to sodas and popcorn, admittedly a nice touch, and wandered in. Inside Theater Three, we found our non-V.I.P. stadium seats, perfectly comfortable ones, and watched the previews. We noticed a waiter serving -- you guessed it -- soda and popcorn to the only couple in the V.I.P. seats. And charging for it. And collecting a tip. I hope they enjoyed their seats and treats, for I think we came out at least $15-20 ahead on that deal. (And, unless their popcorn was flavored with premium cognac, ours was just as good.)

My favorite preview was actually a well-produced import beer commercial featuring Italian bicyclists in a road race who sabotage their tandem bike so that they can sit roadside at a cafe and enjoy their upscale ales while the other bikers pass by. It's come to this, I thought again; I'm compliantly attentive to the advertising that we've paid eighteen dollars to see at the early discount show! At any rate, later on I appreciated the cleanliness of the rest room that I had to visit midway through the movie, once my free soda asserted itself. Note: I'm not being sarcastic here; I really do appreciate well-designed, well-maintained sanitary facilities. At the ESPN Zone, in fact, you don't have to miss any of the action being shown on the main screen while visiting the men's room -- I can't tell you why, exactly, but perhaps you can guess -- nor do you, I'm reliably informed, in the ladies' room, although the ergonomics of that are more difficult for me to imagine. Still, what more could an obsessed sports fan of either gender ask for?

Upon leaving the theater, the warm spring breeze and sunshine enticed us to take a walk around our favorite local park, and despite the warning signs, we encountered no coyotes along the nearly dry, paved walking trails. It's amazing how Denver winter weather can dominate the national weather report -- we'd received about 10-12" of snow on Thursday, in blizzard conditions -- and then the snow was all but gone three days later. We came home in time to see most of the BU-UNH hockey game, followed by the day's second game, Bemidji State's decisive win over Cornell, accompanied by Sunday dinner, my beloved spousal unit's delicious chicken curry over brown rice, and raspberry pie for dessert. All in all, a wonderful way to wrap up a delightful weekend.

What's that? The Watchmen movie? Thanks; I almost forgot. Way too violent. Sorry, kids.

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