3D comes to Peninsula

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2010

Shelly Endsley's dreams will be realized on the silver screen today when her movie theater becomes the first on the Kenai Peninsula to go 3D.

Photo By Brielle Schaeffer
Photo By Brielle Schaeffer
Shelly and Chris Endsley stand in one of their newly upgraded movie theaters Thursday. Soldotna's Orca Theater will become the Kenai Peninsula's first digital and 3D theater today with its debut of "Yogi Bear."

Endsley, an owner of Orca Theaters on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Soldotna, has traded in the old 35 mm film projectors for all-digital systems.

"Technology is unbelievable," she said. "You will be amazed the difference."

Instead of metal cases heavily loaded with reel-to-reel film, the movies come on hard drives that download to a server and project onto the screens.

"My new projectors are pretty much a big computer," she said.

Orca Theater also installed new 13-by-24-foot silver screens, which are needed for 3D, she said.

"It's so much sharper and brighter," Endsley said about the image. "We have new surround sound and new speakers to completely just top it off."

As the big 3D opening tonight the theater will be showing the computer animated "Yogi Bear."

"I'm very overwhelmed but very, very excited," Endsley said.

A family affair

Endsley's father, Lewis Johnson, opened the Orca Theater in the 1980s. Working there was her first job when she turned 15, she said.

In 2000, she and her husband, Chris, began managing the theater after her father died. In 2006 they bought the theater from her family and installed new seats, floors and aisle lighting.

The digital transition is just the icing on the cake for Endsley.

"This is a pivotal moment here," she said.

Endsley said her father would be "ecstatic" about the technological upgrades she's making to the theater.

She said she is still amazed at what technology can do. The digital projector contains just a 1-by-1 inch computer chip with 2.2 million tiny mirrors on it that reflect the light at different angles to create the moving picture, she said.

"I want people to see what technology can do," she said. "Technology is going that way and we wanted to be the first to bring it to the Peninsula."

Brian Vita, an installer and dealer of movie equipment from Boston who's helping to get the Orca ready, said the digital image is 16 times sharper than HD, or high-definition video.

With the digital projector the images are extremely detailed and precise, down to seeing every hair on Rapunzel's "Tangled" head. With the black-rimmed plastic 3D glasses, the previews of upcoming animated Disney features "Cars" and "Gnomeo and Juliet" literally pop off the screen.

"People will be coming out of here with their jaws agape, like they've never seen a movie before," Vita said.

In preparation for the debut tonight, Shelly and Chris have been working long days to install all the new equipment.

"We're personally doing the upgrade. It's us hands-on everything," she said. "We couldn't have done it without family and friends."

Independent challenges

As an independently-owned movie theater, one of only a handful in the state, it was a challenge even to be able to receive the digital and 3D equipment, she said.

"It's harder to get yourself put in the line to get them," she said. "This is huge for individual owners."

The whole upgrade cost around $200,000 for the theater, she said. The 3D lens alone cost $35,000.

Despite the cost of the new equipment, Endsley said she's committed to keeping movie admissions affordable.

"We have a family, we live down here, we understand with an economy it's not easy," she said.

All ticket prices will increase by 50 cents and for 3D movies $3 will be added onto that.

Prices for all matinee showings are $6.50, so 3D will be $9. Evening show admissions are $9 for adults and $6.50 for children and seniors, with the $3 additional charge for 3D.

"Even at that we are still the lowest in the state" for digital movies, she said.

Anchorage's Century 16 charges $7 for non-3D matinees and 3D is an additional $3.25 charge. The base price for adult evening shows is $9.75.

At the theater on Thursday, the crew of Shelly, Chris and Vita put the finishing touches on the digital transition.

Chris, who works nights at ConocoPhillips, even took a couple days off to help install the new equipment and then to be able to enjoy it.

"Can't miss the big opening," he told his wife.

Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at brielle.schaeffer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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