AMC's The Grand 24, Dallas, TexasAMC has announced it will be closing the first megaplex in the United States, as reported by Unfair Park last week. The Grand 24 in Dallas, Texas, opened on May 19, 1995 and instantly became a sensation, drawing crowds from across the region to experience the new-fangled stadium seating and booming digital sound system. At the time of its opening, it had more movie screens under one roof than any other theater in the world, though that record did not last long.

More importantly, its opening ushered in The Dark Times, in the view of local alt-weekly Dallas Observer at the time: "Despite their technological proficiency and ostensible convenience, there's a depressing dearth of exhibitor creativity among the megaplexes. No new art houses. No repertory houses." The article bemoaned the lack of user-friendliness and the difficulty of reaching The Grand 24, although acknowledging AMC's claim that the facility was one of the five busiest in the nation. Even more disturbing: "The multiplexes aren't designed to offer a wide selection of films, but to inundate us with the least common denominator of mainstream movie-making."

Over the past 15 years, the megaplex concept has expanded throughout the world, though some exhibitors have felt the pain of overbuilding in certain regions. Certainly it's easier than ever to see the latest wide Hollywood release; at most, you may have to wait a little on a Friday or Saturday night to see your first pick. Even art houses have been infected; this past Saturday night, my friend and I were amazed and disappointed that screenings of Exit Through the Gift Shop, the well-recommended Banksy doc, had been canceled by the Angelika Film Center in Dallas in favor of playing Sex and the City 2 on a third screen in the multiplex.

With the widespread financial success of the megaplex, why is AMC closing The Grand 24? According to the press release, AMC could not come to terms on lease issues with the building's owner, calling the proposal "untenable."

Yet the facility is still busy every weekend; I should know, since it's the closest theater to where I currently live and I've been seeing a steady stream of movies there for the past three to four years. Patronage really picks up mid- to late-evening on the weekends, as dating couples, families, and groups of friends flock to the concession stand, dropping substantial bucks, and filling the auditoriums. It's true that most of the screens are reserved for mainstream Hollywood product, but the Latino-themed drama La Mission is still playing there after several weeks, despite drawing tiny crowds initially, and it was the only theater in Dallas proper to play the terrific documentary Racing Dreams.

In the past, the theater developed a terrible reputation for criminal activity, especially after someone was killed in the parking lot. However, as I commented over at Unfair Park (the excellent Dallas Observer news blog): "I've lived in the neighborhood for the past two years and seen at least 50 movies there in that time, with no incident. ... Definitely there has been a crime problem in the past, and the complex is only a shadow of its former self. I saw a bunch of movies there in the mid 90s before I moved to Dallas, and I remember well the glory days, and I appreciate the feelings of nostalgia. The projection, sound, and seats have long since passed from the state of the art." Here, to me, is the rub, considering that patrons are 90% Latino from my observation: "Nearby families will lose the convenience of close proximity and have to travel a few miles further, to Cinemark 17 or 10 miles further, to North Park, where they can be assimilated into the Caucasian Borg. And we lose a decent place to watch movies."

AMC has not upgraded the facility in years, if ever. Perhaps it felt that declining patronage did not justify the investment. And now that the landlord has evidently hiked the rent, they are ready to pull out of the neighborhood.

It's not that The Grand 24 is an architectural landmark. Its historical importance will rank only a footnote, perhaps a derogatory one in the eyes of many film fans. If I were looking at this objectively, I'd probably agree that it's no great loss: good riddance and all that. I'd much rather that it was a state-of-the-art facility that showcased a healthy variety of mainstream and independent releases.

But it's another theater closing, in a neighborhood that has been supporting it, and that's never a good thing.