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Movie theaters turn up the luxury, add dimensions
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DBAYYEH, Lebanon: Forget overpriced popcorn; one movie theater in the country is now offering a nosh of caviar and a sip of bubbly with the latest blockbuster flick for the first time, while another low budget cinema is expanding the reach of amusement-style thrills.

As part of a broad range of cinema offerings that are beginning to pop up around the country, Grand Cinemas at ABC Dbayyeh is now offering a high-end theater experience for the country’s wealthy, or people looking to feel that way for a few hours.

Champagne, caviar and electric operated leather recliners are included in the “Grand Class” ticket price of LL45,000. Patrons get their own bar, an on call hostess and a theater with 20 seats.

The theater markets its new high-cost theater under the tag line “Why Not?” and for the people who can afford it; there seem to be few reasons not to.

“It’s kind of indulgent; we put clients in a state of luxury,” said Isaac Sahed, marketing manager at Grand Cinemas.

An elite service in an industry that is already out of reach for many people in the country fits into a large category of businesses catering for the upper crust.

Electricity and Internet may be hard to come by, but rooftop bars and exclusive beach resorts are not. Other high-end theaters are also opening at other locations in the nation, but few are as opulent as Grand Cinemas.

And while the clientele who can afford to regularly pay four times the cost of a regular ticket is relatively small, the number of people looking to be seen at a high-end theater and be treated to a luxury experience is not.

“We are targeting everybody,” Sahed said. “I think as a matter of curiosity they will go one time.”

Sahed said that he hopes the luxurious experience will keep people coming back. And given the high premium on appearances here, that’s not entirely implausible.

A hostess and waiting room decorated like a swank club greets customers after they purchase their tickets. Once inside you can have a drink to start off with and order the food and drinks you want for the film before you are seated in the theater.

Once settled down in an oversized, leather reclining armchair you are given a blanket and a serving of caviar and salmon along with your drink of choice. For most patrons, that is a glass of champagne or mimosa.

For another drink or snack, a call button next to every armchair summons the hostess during the show.

“It’s a good thing, it’s more personal,” construction executive Jean-Marc Khaled said in the theater ante-room before watching “The Amazing Spider-Man” with his son. “When you are watching the movie, it’s more relaxing.”

If you can spare even more cash, you can also rent out the theater to watch a film of your choice.

On the other end of the spectrum, the ambitiously titled “7-D theaters” offers a slightly tawdry cheaper thrill and a touch of whiplash for LL7,000.

There are a number of such style theaters in the country and the industry seems to be expanding.

A motion platform on a small stall at the Concorde Plaza in Verdun, Beirut offers an amusement-style ride with rudimentary 3-D technology to give riders a more immersingexperience.

The platform tilts forward and backward, and shakes at head-jarring levels in sync with a number of simulation-like films. When the roller coaster heads upward the seats tilt back; when it “strikes” a scorpion, you get a shake; when it hits a spider you get another, in addition to the near constant jostling and head thumping on the padded bar of the simulator ride.

Films of around seven minutes are also paired with screeching audio and sprays of mist to match scenes from the films. While the booth offers over a dozen simulations, ride operator Tala Abou Yehya recommends first time riders try the volcano roller coaster ride or one of the more grotesque horror type films for those looking for a scare.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 10, 2012, on page 2.
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