The reviews here have ranged from largely positive-->glowing/gushing. In the interests of contributing to a hopefully useful implementation of the local-review genre of websites, I'd like to respond while trying to avoid the aggressive bipolarity present on most such sites. With that in mind, please season yr. reading of this review with a few grains of salt:
a) I don't much like mainstream movies,
b) I usually arrive late to avoid prescreening ads and such,
c) I know not one whit about the original theater.
d) The MB may well hold an important position in the local business/charitable community of which I am not apprised.
First, I appreciate very much the lack of prescreening ads. Very Much.
Although I'm very much in favor of 'neighborhood' theaters, I'm not sure why one would characterize the Bay as a neighborhood theater except for the fact that it occupies space within a neighborhood. Similarly, I don't understand the MB to be local, except to the extent that it is close to my own abode. Here, I have two disclaimers. First, I understand that the theater is just now establishing itself, and has much to do to become a Ballard 'institution.' Second, as noted above, I have no sense of the institutionality of its prior incarnation. However, the best examples, to me, of neighborhood theaters, would be places like the Harvard Exit, the Guild (on 45th), or the Neptune. Each of these is entrenched within its respective community and, to an extent, has a super-theatrical meaning beyond mere historical resonance. I don't hold this against the theater, and certainly (happily) observe that it is not owned by a conglomerate. With that said, does anyone else know of another local/neighborhood theater that Elttaes has actually started?
While I usually prefer small theaters as opposed to large, and theaters with personality as opposed to those without, I question both aspects with reference to the MB. First, a small theater is the perfect place to present movies outside the mainstream/blockbuster range. Screening an independent film in such a theater makes sense because they appeal, by nature, to an audience seeking a more personalized and intimate (vis-a-vis other viewers) experience. Screening a mainstream film invites a crowd which does not generally enjoy the experience of film-as-film, but instead only of film-as-leisure or film-as-entertainment.
The size of the theater notwithstanding, even small theaters should have two aisles (another disclaimer--I've only sat in one room, and the others may actually have aisles). In itself, the design may echo the other 'retro' attributes of the earlier, or other earlier theaters. I'm not sure. But it would seem to me that one could buld a 'retro' theater while at the same time minimizing those design defects. I would expect this problem to be particular chronic, given that the theater shows mainstream movies. Thus, although one is not subject to prescreening ads, one is functionally led to going early, anyway. Interestingly, I would have expected the seating arrangments to reflect a particularly mercenary advertising mechanism. Another plus (or lack of a minus) for the MB.
The retro-design: I'll admit that the exterior is interesting, if not compelling (by which I mean only that the design is not an independent reason to see a movie there). The interior, though, seems fairly ordinary. The curtain-thing is nice, but would hardly be out of place at any (less-than) slick-stripmallish chain theater. Rather than add to the effect, I wonder why folks would consider such snug quarters as retro (space and property used to be cheap, luxury omnipresent as a fantasy-element).
The screensize and audiotech, I think, is a function of the size of the screening rooms and is, as such, just fine. But it is no more impressive, really, than someone with a $10,000 gift certificate at a big-box electronics store could pull off. Given the money oozing around Seattle, and after P. Allen's extravagance, the MB hardly seems anywhere near state-of-the-art circa '93.
This long communique/diatribe should not be read as suggesting that I in anyway hate/dissaprove of the theater. It is convenient, fine, OK, free of monopolistic taint, and etc... But to rate it as 'Great' seems to me an overstatement.