A Letter to Palace Electric

Posted 10 years, 25 weeks ago.

This weekend, I went to see the new Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit at Palace Electric with the ladies from Silver Screen Queens. The movie was OK, maybe 3 stars, but the experience I had was the worst.

In their defence, they did reach out to ask me for feedback, and so I wrote a rather long email to explain what went wrong, and how they could have improved it.

This is that email.

On 24 January, my wife, housemate, and I went to see the 9:20pm showing Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. This was the first time I, personally, had been to your cinema. I drove, and we made it to the cinema with at least 20 minutes to spare before the film started. Now, I appreciate that this was an overly busy weekend for you, however, my previous experience with other cinemas is that this is more than ample time to make it into a session with pre-booked tickets.

The first major issue occurred before I even walked in the door: we entered the underground car park in the hopes of finding a park, but to no avail. I immediately regretted the decision, because we subsequently got stuck. First behind a large 4WD that nearly backed into us while trying to turn around, and then on a ramp as several more cars entered, blocking our attempts at exiting. We were caught in this hell for at least 10 minutes, and when we did eventually make it out again, I dropped the ladies off to collect our tickets and concessions while I looked for parking elsewhere. I eventually found a park at Theatre 3, and ran back to the cinema, entering the (packed, really really packed) foyer bang on 9:20.

Honestly, with an event like $5 tickets to all sessions, I would think that you’d be aware that there could be parking issues. Having a crew member check the parking area ever few minutes and placing a “FULL” sign if there are no parks available would have made a huge difference. Having some method of directing people to other car parks nearby would also have been beneficial, even if it’s just temporary signage or a crew member saying “Sorry, guys there are no parks here. Have you tried Theatre 3?” None of the other major cinemas in Canberra really have to deal with this, because they’re mostly situated in malls, and therefore benefit from the large capacity parking structures said malls provide. But if you’re going to have a rush of people to your cinema, you’re going to need to do something.

Once inside, I met the ladies at the counter where they were just picking up our items, and we proceeded down the rabbit warren into cinema 8. As we got further and further into the building the walls closed in and it got hotter and hotter. By the time we reached the actual cinema, it was legitimately hotter inside than it had been outside. I’d worn a hoodie, which I promptly had to remove, and it was still hot enough that I was sweating. Someone mentioned to me that you guys have had a problem with a bad smell permeating the premises, and suggested that perhaps you had turned off or lowered the air-con to try to stop this. Whatever the actual reason was, dear God was it hot, and that’s not cool (pun not intended).

The cinema was dark, really dark. When we walked in, it was just ads that were playing, but all the lights were off, and it was so very dark. Dark enough that it was relatively difficult to find our seats. But what made it worse was that having done so, I sat down and tried to place my drink in the cup holder. Now, I couldn’t see a thing, but I could feel that there was something there, and I proceeded to try and find the hole for the cup by feel. I found an edge and figured I had found it, but soon found I was wrong, and as a bonus, I had now covered the floor and my leg with soft drink.

Now, personally, I think that the lack of an actual cup holder in favour of a weird little shelf is silly. Anything you place there is likely to get knocked off, whether that be a soft drink or a glass of wine. But the end result is that it was too dark to see what I was doing. I couldn’t tell if I was placing the drink on a shelf or the edge of a cup shaped hole. The fact that we were only seeing ads (and a trailer or two) makes it worse. There is no need to completely turn off the lights until the movie is playing. If that had been the case, I would understand. But people are typically still getting situated during ads and trailers, regardless of how busy it is. Dim the lights, sure, but I should be able to see what I’m doing and where I’m going, if only because of safety reasons!

After spilling my drink, I decided to head out and get a new one, but soon changed my mind as the place was still packed. It would take me too long and I would end up missing the first few minutes of the show. I turned back to the cinema with nothing. I made the right choice, as the movie started only a couple minutes after I sat back down. The crazy queues had clearly held up some people, though, as about 5 minutes into the film, the cinema had a rush of about 10 people arriving late and finding their seats.

Surely something could be done about the queues you have for tickets and concessions. Most Canberran cinemas have a separate queue for pre-booked tickets, and Dendy has a separate candy bar line for purchasing drinks and popcorn. From what I could tell, you simply have a McDonalds-style counter and system for tickets and main concessions and some sort of cafe/bar for more “sophisticated” items like wine. Surely this bar could sell your regular concessions like popcorn and soft drinks, and if it does already, perhaps this could be better signposted? Something. Anything, really.

Combining all of this, along with some other annoyances (like people talking beside me), made this the worst cinema experience I’ve ever had. There was very little that went right, other than the movie playing fine. It’s not enough for you to be able to play a movie. I can do that at home. You have to nail the experience, and you really didn’t. At no point did I feel like you were doing better than other cinemas. You didn’t appear to even be trying harder (yay, wine tasting, oh wait we’ve been in line for so long we don’t have time). Have someone outside to help people with parking. Send someone through the queues to take preorders of concessions before they get to the counter. Do a final call when a session is about to start and get those people their tickets and concessions first so they don’t miss the start of the movie.

It’s too late for me. You’ve made your first impression and holy crap was it bad. There are a myriad of things that could’ve been done but weren’t. Change that. Instead of just being trendy and new, make your cinema the one with the most helpful staff. Make it the one where people go because the atmosphere is a positive, efficient one. Make it the one where people want to go, because “Palace Electric is kinda hot and small, but they’re so nice and helpful there. I mean, they were so busy, but they helped me find a park and when I dropped my drink, one of the staff saw that I was frustrated and helped me out so I could get back in and not miss the movie. They went over and above, and they’re the best cinema in town.”

When your cinema is like that, then I’ll come back.