What we know about the Magic Lantern acquisition of the Capitol

John Cairns

Today the topic of this column is Magic Lantern, the Capitol, and what the heck is going on with movies in North Battleford. 

Long-term, I’m happy with what’s going on. Not only are we getting a new movie theatre, but based on what Magic Lantern is saying, the Capitol is going to be staying open for years to come. 

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Short term, though, it stinks. There is no way to sugar-coat it. We are going to be down to zero screens while the renovations go on at the Capitol, for however long they go on. 

Then after that, we’ll be stuck with only one screen until the new Magic Lantern theatre is completed, likely no sooner than a year from now. 

This is likely going to mean yet another year of hitting the road to Saskatoon for movies, even after all the renovations and improvements at the Capitol. The selection will be terrible!  

The only silver lining is that if you are going to close down the only movie theatre in the city for renovations, now is the time to do it. This is the movie “dead season,” with few blockbusters to be had. Cinemas are screening a lot of junk, such as the lousy “Fifty Shades Darker,” currently with a score of nine per cent at Rotten Tomatoes.  

There isn’t a precise timetable for when the renovations at the Capitol will all be finished, but it would be a good idea if they were finished in time for the major blockbusters later this year. Otherwise, people are going to be mad. 

Anyhow, here is a rundown of what we know so far about what’s happening with the Capitol.  

The backstory: until Friday, the Capitol had been owned by the Melfort-based Dynasty Theatres, whose other theatres were in Melfort and also Meadow Lake. 

The Capitol, for much of its history, has been a one-screen theatre, but that changed after the twin cinemas in the Frontier Mall closed. 

Afterwards, the Capitol was renovated and converted into a two-screen cinema. A twin wall was put up that split the main theatre into two cinemas with two separate screens. 

That did not go over well. Two major complaints emerged from movie fans: one was about “sound-bleeding,” with the sound spilling over from one cinema into the other. The other gripe was that the screen sizes were too small in the new configuration.

The main problem was that the cinema just wasn’t offering a modern movie-going experience for people. Despite that, a lot of local people are quite fond of the Capitol. Mainly, it has the “nostalgia factor” going for it, because so many people have fond memories of going there when they were kids. 

So while there was excitement when Magic Lantern made their announcement about the new theatre, there was also quite a bit of worry about the Capitol’s future.   

The future now is a lot less cloudy. Dynasty Theatres has sold the Capitol to Magic Lantern, effective Feb. 17, and Magic Lantern are making it known that big changes are on the way there.    

Here is what we know about what will happen:

According to the news release from Magic Lantern, they will take out the infamous “twin wall” and restore the building to a single screen cinema. 

They will also remove the outdated seats that are in the theatre now and put in “new, wide reclining easy chairs” with “lots of room between rows”. A sample of the chairs is going to be installed in the store window at the Ironclad Building at 1132 101st Street, so you will get to see what it will be like. 

According to their news release, they also plan a larger screen, a new sound system, a new roof, a new accessible washroom, and exterior renovations including the “iconic Capitol sign”.  

In short, it sounds like the main problems at the Capitol are going to be gone. It will be one big screen, showing one movie, with no more sound-bleeding or bad sound. As a bonus, the seats will be comfy.  

Information about the Capitol will be integrated into Magic Lantern’s website, which will be where to go for movie information, times and so on. Until the Capitol reopens the Magic Lantern site will feature updates about the construction. 

Magic Lantern has also announced they plan to have reserved seating, where you can purchase your tickets online and reserve your seats in advance, just like what happens at a live theatre or arena. I notice this has been getting to be a common practice at some screenings at Scotiabank Theatre in Saskatoon. 

As for the renovations, Magic Lantern has pledged to “keep the ‘down time’ as short as possible.” Once it re-opens, the Capitol will remain the only theatre in town for about a year until the new Magic Lantern cinema opens.  

At the moment the timetable calls for construction of the new theatre to begin in the spring; that will be a ten-month project. Beyond that, it really has been a fluid situation as far as the new cinema is concerned. This project has had a lot of moving parts to it in terms of the exact location of the cinema and its footprint.    

Last year, Mayor Ian Hamilton noted at city council that Magic Lantern had previously approached Dynasty Theatres with an offer for the Capitol. Their concept was to build a new theatre, while refurbishing the Capitol to its original state, which Hamilton called an "an awesome idea." 

But that offer wasn’t accepted. Eventually, Magic Lantern announced they were going ahead with their new theatre anyway. 

It has taken a while, but it now sounds like the original concept is going to come to fruition. According to Magic Lantern’s news release: 

“The new cinema will operate in conjunction with the Capitol, allowing five movies to play at once. The big plus is the renovated Capitol will be the nicest theatre between Edmonton and Saskatoon.”

That sounds to me as if the new cinema will have four screens, while the fifth one will be at the Capitol. 

The important takeaway for me from all this is that Magic Lantern is still firmly committed to its plans for the Battlefords, and that the Capitol is going to be restored and revitalized.  

This will surely be good news from a preservation perspective, because too many historic movie theatres in this province and elsewhere have met the fate of the wrecking ball.   

No doubt, the heritage folks in North Battleford, Richard Hiebert and his friends, will be delighted with what appears to be happening now with the Capitol. In fact, the Capitol sounds like a good future topic for one of Hiebert’s history pieces for our paper. 

That is one story a lot of people will want to read.  

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist

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