The Roxy is Wellington’s newest small cinema. It’s in Miramar and it’s connected to Weta Workshop in some way that’s mostly a rumour to me. As the latecomer, it’s got all the advantages of learning what works from the other independent cinemas in Wellington but the disadvantage of having to compete with them from well outside the central business or tourist areas. In a way, that’s forced it to go all the way to the extreme end of being “somewhere” in and of itself irrespective of the films it shows; it is the most striking theatre I’ve encountered as a work of building design.
The exterior is Art Deco with neon, at first an odd combination of style and technology, but it works. Especially because it’s basically in suburbia, on a small shopping street, it has a much bigger presence than its mere size suggests. It’s commanding position on the high street really means that it feels like the centre of the show, which it basically is. The entry and foyer are lifted from the 1920s, and because of the Weta connection the entry foyer is always decorated with movie-related sculpture. When I last went it was Tintin, but there have been others before and in the intervening time Tintin has probably been replaced too. The majority of the first floor is taken up with a fairly good restaurant, with a kind of cafe attachment and comfortable chairs. I think if you ripped off the top of the building and left just this space, the place would survive. It’s probably impossible for those raised on Multiplexes to understand, but it has a sense of style and class that’s not to be understated.
The real interior treat is upstairs, where the actual theatre lobbies are a homage to the serialised SF of the 1920s and 1930s. The high vaulted ceiling is a scene on an alien world, with Rocketeer-inspired spacemen, and alien robots. On a practical level, there is plenty of comfortable seating in which to lounge before the show, and in high season there is a well-stocked cocktail bar whose prices are not outrageous. It’s always difficult coming to terms with going to an Odeon multiplex in the UK and being asked to pay a kidney for a bottle of water when in civilised places you can order a highball cocktail and relax into an overstuffed leather armchair surrounded by gorgeous art, before walking past a parade of film posters into a real cinema.
The weakest part of the Roxy Cinema is the cinema itself. The seats are large, but I always find them somehow oddly proportioned, a little too wide and deep and too firm and flat. They’d meet any objective criteria for comfort, and are better than any-but-one cinema seat I’ve encountered in the UK, but they’re not comfortable. The seats are racked at a traditional shallow angle, so that once or twice when sitting behind a giant I’ve had to look around someone, but again, this is still better than virtually all the UK cinemas I’ve been to. I also tend to find the sound in Roxy a little fuzzy. I expect it has the same basic setup as any multiplex cinema but they don’t try to over-sell it by dialling the volume to 11 the way I find Odeon and Vue do. In fact, there’s just one thing that actually genuinely bugs me, rather than representing a failure to be perfect, which is that the screen has a period surround, which is just wide enough and close enough that its edge picks up reflected light during brightly-lit scenes.
The Roxy may not be my absolute favourite cinema, but I think however you look at the quality of cinematic experiences, it’s got to be in the top tier of cinemas; a great place that is an experience in itself.