San Diego, California: Outdoor Movie Theater in Swing Again

Each year brings a new crop of audience members who discover Cinema Under The Stars. This off-the-beaten-path, outdoor Mission Hills movie theater has existed since 1991in a larger incarnation at times, and sometimes in dispute with neighbors and zoning laws. But always with an entrepreneurialВ joie de vivre.

Sure we have a group of regulars, says convivial owner Doug Yeagley, who lives about 50 feet away from the theater and his adjacentВ Tops Hair Salon. But we see new faces every year.

Traditionally, Cinema Under The Stars (CUTS) opens its season in May, and shows an assemblage of the classics:В Rear Window, Rebel Without A Cause, Some Like It Hot. This year, the showings are already underway, and the marquee holds the names of new movies likeВ The Blind Side andВ Sherlock Holmes (the remake with Robert Downey Jr.).

Every year we get antsy to open the doors, so this year we opened earlier than ever, says Yeagley. And we wanted to test and see if people would come see the blockbusters as much as the classics.

Test results: Sellouts nearly every night thus far.

There are just 62 seats facing a 20-foot screen. The movies roll Thursday through Sunday nights. Doors open at 6 p.m. and shows begin at 8 p.m. You can buy tickets ($13.50) at the door starting Thursday night at 6, for any show that weekend. Only club members ($75 annual fee) can make phone reservations.

Count me part of CUTS' discovery class of 2010. Unclear of the rules, we showed up at 6 p.m. on a Saturday, thinking we'd beat the crown and get day-of tickets, go get dinner and come back forВ The Blind Side. We were fourth in line, and got the last two seats (anti-gravity recliners, at that) but only because the party in front of us needed six tickets or none (and walked with none). Note: People really come earlier in the week and buy tickets for the weekend.

Just before 8 o'clock, my date and I stopped at the snack bar and ordered popcorn. When the Orville Redenbacher's smart butter popcorn bag was put into a microwave, I was asked to watch the timer and hit the stop button at the 1:30 mark. I was happy to essentially pop my own, since the bill for the corn, a hot chocolate and a bag of peanut m&m's totaled just $6. (You can order three toothpicks at a mainstream theater and expect to pay $7.50).

The recliners were cozy, and each seat comes with a blanket. These weren't necessary under the glare of industrial-strength heat lamps that emanate heat with the efficiency of small suns.

As billed, there were visible starsin the sky, not just the onscreen visage of Sandra Bullock. The ambiance is familial. AndВ The Blind Side was moving. I was never, however, transported beyond my surroundings. There was a mild sound disturbance when a neighbor seemed to be dragging bottles across concrete. I smiled when a real moth flickered in front of Cathy Bates' 15-foot onscreen mug.

Ron Donoho

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