What if technology isn't the solution to getting people to go to the movies?
It's not that things like IMAX, D-Box and Barco Escape aren't interesting ideas worthy of artistic exploration, but the reality is that by and large, these technological advances in cinema don't really exist to serve the movie. Sure, we've figured out how to make 3-D look good, but most people aren't actually doing anything interesting with the technology. The industry has become obsessed with making going to the movies more than just seeing a good film, not because they're championing new forms of storytelling, but because they want you to spend more money.
While all these gimmicks might offer you something you can't get at home – and there lies part of the appeal – what they don't offer you is comfort, which is something we assume we sacrifice when we go out to the movies. We sit in less-than-comfortable chairs in giant rooms that are usually too cold with video that may not be bright enough with people who can't not talk or check their phones for 90 minutes. The real price of going to the movies is not what you pay at the box office but what you're willing to go through to see a movie immediately rather than wait for it to hit Redbox or Netflix.
Enter iPic, over in the River Oaks District, whose solution to getting you to go to the movies isn't in moving seats or weird screen formats. iPic's solution, in fact, is deceptively simple, one that combines the best comforts of home with the perks of hitting the town.
In the company's marketing materials and at a media preview I attended, the word "luxury" came up a lot from the folks at iPic, and it's easy to see why. You will pay more to see a movie at iPic – $28 per seat for the premium plus seats if you're not a member, $24 if you are in most cases – but what you get is unlike anything else you're getting at other theaters in the city.
The iPic here in Houston is the first in the world to use the company's new pod system, which basically means each pair of seats in the premium plus section of the theater are their own little island of sorts, with the two seats being surrounded by a booth. It's a small thing, but it does add a bit of intimacy to going to the movies, especially if you're out on a date night.
The seats are what makes the whole iPic thing pop. As you can see in the photo above, they aren't movie theater seats, they're big, very comfortable recliners. They're fine in their upright position, but when you give in to the idea and lie back in them, it's almost like being at home.
And then come the pillow and blanket.
You pop that pillow behind your head and pull that blanket up, and suddenly you realize that being cozy in a movie theater may not be something you ever desired but is something you're going to miss every time you go to a regular movie theater. It sounds ridiculous – I feel ridiculous typing it – but it's true: Independent of what was showing on the screen, I have never enjoyed my time in a movie theater more than I did at iPic. The fancy seat + pillow + blanket combo was more enjoyable than any moving seat or visual overload I've ever come across, in large part because it's so easy to get comfortable and then get lost in watching a movie.
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I am not the target audience for iPic. I love gimmicks, D-Box and 3-D in particular. I also love dollar theaters, because I don't think most movies are worth a full-price movie ticket. I don't go out to the movies as much as I would like because I'm kind of lazy. The idea of paying $24 to go to the movies is insane to me, and that's not including paying for food.
And yet I find myself looking at film release schedules and thinking, “That might be worth a trip to iPic.”
So, maybe comfort isn't the secret to getting people to go out to the movies. I imagine that most folks are going to balk at paying that much money to see a movie, but I also imagine that there is an audience out there for it, those folks who aren't afraid to spend big for a night out. It's just not going to be for everyone, because while impressive, it's also not a perfect experience either; the servers may not get in the way of the picture, but if you order something, they're still intrusive because you have to lean in to them to talk to them, which is going to be weird if you're in the inner seat. Also, if you're flying solo, I can see it being kind of odd to share a pod with a stranger, especially if you're ordering food.
But if you've got the money and you like to treat yourself, iPic is worth taking a chance on. Everyone should experience the joy of being cozy in a movie theater at least once. It hasn't ruined going to the movies for me, except that maybe it kind of has. Well played, iPic.