“ Castle Mall, Norwich, NR1 3DD. Tel = +44(0)1603 221900. „
Let me start by explaining the cinema situation in Norwich as it was for many years. There were two mainstream cinemas run by the Odeon and the ABC that had a total of 8 screens for the city and most of them weren't huge by a long shot, they also didn;t have the kick ass sound system. The Odeon got Dolby Digital for The Phantom Menace but to be honest it wasn't that great in an old theatre. then the UCI came along with a brand new 14 screen multiplex offering a bar, ice-cream parlour, a gallery for luxury viewing, a better and more diverse selection of films and free parking. It sost a bit more but was worth it for a better experience. Then in 2000 Ster Century opened a multiplex in the Castle Mall boasting 8 screens and the latest Dolby Digital EX sound system which has a en extras middle rear suond channel. I never really went because they seemed to be offering the same as the UCI and why change. Their showing times were a bit too early as well for later showings when 8-8.30 is an ideal weekend viewing time. But both of these newer cinemas caused the Odeon and ABC to close their doors. A local chain Hollywood has now opened in the Odeon's place with decent ticket prices but not the best presentation. In the last few weeks something has happened. UCI have bumped ticket prices up to £5.80 for a peak time showing and it's more difficult to park. Ster Century have obviously seen an opportunity and have lowered theit ticket prices to £3.50 across the board. this makes them the cheapest in town for mainstream films. With this is mind me and a bunch of friends went to see The Mummy Returns in a theatre with Dolby Digital EX. The theatres are clean and quite modern. The seating is incredibly comfortable and there's even a drinks holder in the seat. The EX sound presentation is only in the two largest screens which seat 324/331 respectively. Buying the tickets was easy, there's a screen showing the times and if t hey are sold out or have limited seating. No problems on either front. They even ask you where you would like to sit. Yep you get assigned a seat number. Now personally I prefer to choose where to sit whenever I get in the theatre, first come, first served as it were but it's no big deal. The ushers even show you to your seats. As for the presentation, well there are a few too many adverts but once the film get's going it's clean and the sound is excellent. yesterday I saw Pearl Harbor in the same screen and the sound was awesome (unlike the film) The refreshments are reasonably priced for cinema with the drinks coming in at around a £1.50 average. You can even park your car in thr Mall car park and get 3 1/2 hours free parking. I don't know if the £3.50 price will be ongoing or is just a promotion but it's been reported that the cinema has seen a big upturn in custom as a result. Certainly it's just as good as the UCI and cheaper. I see myself seenig all the summer blockbusters at Ster as a result.
In terms of multiplexes, Ster Century at Castle Mall are the new(er) boys in town (the town in question being Norwich, of course). The UCI at Riverside had been open a good few months before they came along, and for a while it always feels like they were playing catch-up, even though UCI are by no means perfect. An early visit to Ster seemed to confirm that (the story is still below for those who like a chuckle) but I felt I had to amend this review in light of the fact that things are in fact much better than that :) Ster Century now wins over UCI in my book for several reasons. Their prices are still a flat £3.50, whereas UCI's have crept up towards £5 for non-students. The cinema is in the shopping centre in the middle of the city, and therefore more walk-able from my house; it's also not (as much) in the midst of tottering semi-clad clubby-barry girlies and swaggering ben-sherman-clad lads when you come out of a later showing. And there's now a Ben and Jerry's counter in there, which frankly removes the last reason (apart from the very occasional more convenient showing time) to go down to UCI. Parking is free for both (get your multi-storey ticket validated by the cashier), but more buses serve the centre of town than the Riverside development. Furthermore, the seats are more comfy at Ster than UCI, the staff aren't called "cast members" and don't have to do a cheesy intro to the film, and the sound is marginally less ear-popping. Food and drink is the same old same old you get at every multiplex, overpriced and over-additived, barring Ben and Jerry's of course (although that's still overpriced at £1.25 a scoop). Seats are still allocated on your tickets, but the staff seem more with-it these days, and the system works well. It just goes to show that you should give places a second chance! Don't get me wrong, UCI is okay, but Ster wins out in the numerous ways above. --The origin al tale of woe is below-- First up is trying to find out when the film's on. Having recycled the free local paper, our only immediate source of cinema information is my weekly email from UCI, which I signed up for on their neat website. I would get one from Ster Century, but they don't offer one. In fact, their website is as useful as a lead-filled lifebelt to anyone who might have the audacity to want to find out information on the films they show, and the availability of information is the primary reason why we've always gone to UCI. So, the advantage is with UCI at this point. However, the whole thing undergoes a dramatic reversal when I phone to book tickets (we don't usually, but we're seeing Castaway on its second day, at peak time, and figure it's advisable). I'm told bluntly by a UCI operator that they don't do student tickets over the phone, so instead of just under £4 it will be over £6 each. I politely decline (I believe the exact phrase was, "you must be joking, no thanks. Bye!"). Now we have a choice: go down to UCI early and hope, or try Ster Century. We vote to try the latter - it is after all only half the distance from our house, in the centre of town and there may be a chance for last orders afterwards. A scrabble for the phone number later (the website having failed to yield one), I'm listening to a list of the current films read by someone who is (a) very bored, (b) suffering from a heavy cold, and (c) apparently standing in the middle of the shopping mall on a Saturday. Eventually, after pressing a few random numbers and waiting in a queue (at least they tell you what number you are), I get through to a reasonable approximation of a human being. He informs me that they do indeed do student tickets over the phone, for the same price as UCI, and books us reserved seats for our preferred showing. So far, so fine and dandy. Arriving at the cinema, there is a queue of b ored, miserable people stretching halfway round the mall. Because all tickets have a seat reservation, buying them takes longer than usual. "Ha!" we exclaim, feeling superior as we troop up to the ticket collection point upstairs, "all those silly people should have booked in advance!" Unfortunately, we're met at the ticket machine by a small huddle of confused people and a legend on the screen: printer out of paper. "Maybe someone will come along in a minute," says one hopefully. I sigh, roll my eyes heavenwards, and decide to do something proactive - I head downstairs to find Someone In Charge. One look at the ever-lengthening queue and my mind is made up - it's straight to the cashier I go. After all, I'm reporting a fault, aren't I? The manageress turns up just as I'm explaining the problem, and immediately radios someone to fix it. I'm impressed. The other people in the queue are slightly less impressed when she then serves me (I've waited all of 20 seconds). I disappear back upstairs before they decide to re-enact Kett's Rebellion, and my friends and I head for the screen, bypassing the usual array of overpriced, additive-stuffed food. There's hardly anyone in (wow, I really did jump the queue), and we find our reserved seats with ease. Disappointingly, there are no adverts for local estate agents and wedding-dress shops on the screen (as at UCI), nor are there the Pictionary teasers to keep us amused. All there is is The Best Love Album In The World... Ever (Part 563b) - when Lady In Red comes on, we consider leaving, but there are only a few minutes until the film starts. Well, a few minutes turns into several, and as the auditorium fills up, it becomes clear that (a) the film is sold out, and (b) there's a problem. "Excuse me, those are our seats" becomes a familiar sound, as each new arrival seems to set up a chain reaction of displaced people. What 39;s gone wrong? Has the seat-allocating computer developed a glitch? Nope. It seems that the very-nice-but-ultimately-vacuous ushers at the door have decided to tell some people that they can sit where they like, and they don't have to use the allocated seats. So of course, those with relatively duff seats take prime seats... but those who've been allocated the prime seats want them back, and are angrily brandishing their tickets in the interlopers' faces. The manageress arrives, and tried to rectify the problem, but of course, when you get some people in the right seat, that displaces someone else, and getting them sorted displaces someone else... you get the picture. This goes on and on, and we begin to think that we are the only people in the place who are in the right seats. People are getting restless, making sarky comments, and the manageress is getting more and more stressed as she radios the projection room yet again to delay the start of the film. It's now 30 minutes after it was due to start. One couple, who were the most vociferous in demanding their rightful seats (which weren't actually that great), get up and walk out, claiming that they'll miss their restaurant table otherwise. They're waved off with jeers and a mocking spatter of applause. Another 10 minutes, and everyone is either in a seat they're happy with, or are presumably elsewhere composing a letter of complaint. We assume the hapless ushers are getting a dressing-down somewhere. At least the seats are comfortable and roomy (I'm thankful for small mercies at this point). The film starts - well, the trailers. Even 40 minutes late, they show 20 minutes of advertising, and we see our last orders drink fading fast. Well, I did enjoy the film (damn good job really), but the amount of messing about we had to endure to see it just didn't seem worth it. Maybe if you go when it's not busy, and don't see a popular film, you' ;ll get away without this kind of rigmarole, but that's hardly the point. Sorry, Ster, it's back to UCI for us.