‘Hold onto your molars’: Immersive sound is one of the upgrades at Fox Lake cinema

One of the details that couldn’t be resolved in advance of the grand opening Wednesday of four new auditoriums at Classic Cinemas in Fox Lake were the heated power recliners.

“There is a problem with the chairs — you fall asleep,” joked Alan Gilbertson, a technician with the family-owned chain as he and fellow tech Don Baker last week set up audio, calibrated colors and made other adjustments for the new equipment.

With ultrahigh contrast projectors, massive widescreens and top-tier audio, sleep likely won’t be a consideration for moviegoers.

“They’re all laser projection and the larger auditoriums, two and five, are immersive sound systems,” explained Ed Dobbs, construction superintendent. “They are loaded up — hold onto your molars.”

Dobbs has been with Classic Cinemas for 32 years and seen many changes since 1995 when a former grocery store in the Fox Lake Town Center off Rollins Road, just south of Grand Avenue, was converted to a five-screen theater.

The most recent expansion into a former restaurant space increased the number of theaters inside from nine to 13 and will allow the location to have early access to big name movies. Plans also call for a refreshed lobby with a new entrance

“They’re putting a lot of effort making sure people are comfortable here and happy,” Dobbs said. “It’s a big investment but the community is great — it’s well worth putting in the money.”

Doors reopen at 5 p.m. June 12 with CEO Chris Johnson and Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit on hand for a ribbon cutting. Free popcorn and beverages will be available. A movie trailer package to highlight the technology upgrades will run for about 25 minutes but there is a cap on seating.

Plush power heated recliners with adjustable headrests and the latest audio and video technology are part of what the company describes as “affordable luxury.”

The nine auditoriums were converted from standard seats to recliners in 2019 — dropping the number of seats from 1,718 to 625.

“Our guests loved the new recliners so much that our attendance increased substantially leading to sellouts and the second-highest occupancy rate in the company,” said Jim Toth marketing director for Classic Cinemas, which has 16 locations including Carpentersville, Downers Grove, Elk Grove Village, Elmhurst and St. Charles.

The four new auditoriums in Fox Lake will add about 220 seats. Toth said the investment was “in the seven figures” with a significant amount in the projection, presentation and seating.

Fox Lake upgrades are part of a wider scale remodel. Classic Cinemas is working toward having 100% heated recliners in every location except the original more than 1,000-seat Tivoli in Downers Grove; at least one premium screen at each location; and, adding screens at the highest occupancy theaters, Toth said.

He said studios are leaning toward early access screenings for bigger releases like “The Fall Guy,” “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes,” and upcoming “A Quiet Place: Day One” and “Twisters.” but only for theaters equipped with premium auditoriums like two of the four, known as XQ, being added at Fox Lake.

Laser projectors in the XQ auditoriums allow for a very bright, very colorful picture and the digital surround sound allows for “perfect clarity and pinpoint precision of sounds throughout the auditorium,” said Mike Schindler, film programmer for Classic Cinemas.

Movies now are beamed in via satellite and programmed to be played by automation, which allows for a wider range of movies from blockbusters to small independents, he added.

Fox Lake general manager Jon Coffing at one time was a projectionist or “booth technician” when film came in reels.

While film always will be special to him and those who worked with it, Coffing said the movie theater industry needed technical upgrades to provide the best presentation for customers.

  Four new auditoriums have been added to Classic Cinemas in Fox Lake as part of an ongoing expansion/renovation. Mick Zawislak/
  The lobby/concession area of Classic Cinemas in Fox Lake will be refreshed and a new entrance is planned as part of an ongoing expansion that included four new auditoriums. Mick Zawislak/
  Bob Bohnstedt, an electrician with CJ Power, puts finishing touches on equipment connections in the projector booth for four new auditoriums at Classic Cinemas in Fox Lake. Mick Zawislak/
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