With its grassy lawn, shade trees and cool breeze off the Hudson, it is easy to see what makes Pier A one of the most popular spots in Hoboken -- a place to run laps or gaze at New York's skyline. In addition, on Wednesdays from June 4 to Aug. 27 this year, people will come to the pier for another reason: outdoor movies. They will be claiming a spot for Movies Under the Stars, Hoboken's outdoor movie festival, and if they want a good seat they have to come early.
''It got so popular last year it was very hard to find a place,'' said Paula Orr, a 28-year-old writer who works in Manhattan. ''If you're not there early you'll end up sitting out of the grassy area. If you come later you can sometimes find a small patch, but there's a lot of 'sorry, sorry' as you step on people's blankets.''
Getting good seats for the outdoor film means that Ms. Orr arrives two hours before show time, with a book, a blanket and a picnic in hand. There are worse places to wait, but still, why go to so much trouble to catch a film when there are dozens of indoor screens nearby? ''I like the experience of watching a movie outdoors,'' she explained.
Summer used to be synonymous with another kind of outdoor movie: the drive-in. But in New Jersey, where the nation's first drive-in theater opened 70 years ago, not a single drive-in remains. To fill the void, more and more cities are following in Hoboken's path, adding outdoor movies to their calendars of summer events.
Timothy Cronin, director of parks and recreation in Ridgewood, acknowledges that drive-ins were on his mind when he launched that town's first outdoor movie night. ''I'm not a film buff, but I remember how fun it was going to drive-ins with my parents,'' he said. After the town renovated the lakefront at the Graydon Pool complex, ''I thought, 'a movie on the sand beach?' That would be a great combination,'' he said.
Last year the superintendent allowed Mr. Cronin to set up a 20-by-20-foot outdoor movie screen 100 feet from the water's edge. At sunset, more than 500 people stretched out on beach blankets with popcorn and soda for a showing of ''Shrek.'' ''I wanted to do 'Creature From the Black Lagoon' and have people rising out of the lake, but we thought we might scare the children,'' he recalled, laughing.
To catch that genre of film, movie lovers can head to Fort Lee, where organizers are intentionally offbeat in their selections.
At this summer's 14-week festival, ''Radar Men From the Moon,'' a 1950's-era serial, will be shown in 10-minute chapters at the start of each feature. Three-D glasses will be provided.
Tom Meyers, chairman of the Fort Lee Film Commission, said the rationale behind such eccentric fare, is to ''play off the history of film in Fort Lee,'' which predated Hollywood as the heart of the motion picture industry. ''Duck Soup,'' for example, is on this summer's lineup not only because it is vintage entertainment but also because the Marx brothers shot their first film at a studio in Fort Lee, on the site of Constitution Park where the movie festival is held.
Elsewhere in New Jersey, depending on the town, the setting for outdoor movies might be a grassy knoll on a riverfront (Red Bank) or a parking lot at a shopping center (Bernards Township). Some places serve refreshments, others don't. Some restrict folding chairs to the back; others allow them up front.
The increasing popularity of such outdoor movie nights does not surprise Don Sanders, author of two books on drive-ins and producer of ''Drive-In Movie Memories,'' a documentary. Outdoor movies, whether at a drive-in or a festival, are not about the film, he contends.
''People want to be around other people,'' Mr. Sanders said. ''I don't think people ever wanted to go for the movie. You can't really see them all that well.''
Geri Fallo, Hoboken's director of cultural affairs and founder of Movies Under the Stars, agrees that the appeal of such entertainment lies in more than what's on screen. ''Outdoor movies bring people out of the house,'' she said. ''You're laughing and so are 500 other people. There's a feeling of 'hey, I'm part of something.'''
Sci-fi classics like ''Night of the Living Dead'' were mainstays of Hoboken's outdoor film festival when it started a decade ago. Now the focus is on what's hot. This summer, viewers can catch such Academy Award-winners as ''The Hours'' and ''Chicago.''
Ms. Fallo says she will never forget the film that prompted her to switch from classics to new releases. In 1998 she showed ''Breakfast at Tiffany's,'' followed the next week by ''L.A. Confidential.'' ''We went from 200 to 800 people in a week,'' she said. ''I remember thinking, 'Wow, there's something to this.''' Last season, attendance ranged from 800 to 1,200, depending on the title.
With films like ''Chicago'' on the roster, Hoboken may not be catering specifically to families, but it is not hard to find places that do. The only hitch is that in summer, the sun doesn't set until around 9 o'clock, so credits don't roll until 10:30 or so. That is well past bedtime for many youngsters.
But Pete Wright, director for the department of parks, recreation and community pool in Bernards Township, said he had not found that to be a problem in his festival's 18 years.
''Some parents have their kids take naps in the afternoon,'' he said. ''But I guarantee you that at the end of the night, someone will be carrying a kid who's sacked out and wrapped in a blanket.''
It's not much different from the old days, Mr. Wright added, when his parents ''would throw us in the back of the car and we'd go to the drive-in.''
Speaking of which, drive-in lovers who are still mourning the demise of New Jersey's last outdoor cinema more than a decade ago will be happy to hear that the state won't be ''dark'' much longer. The Circus Drive-In in Mullica Township is under restoration and is scheduled to open in 2004.
Outdoor Movies Coming Soon
A guide to selected outdoor movies in New Jersey this summer. All movies start at sunset and are free unless otherwise indicated.
-- June 26, ''Scooby-Doo'' at the Hills Highland Village Center; July 8, ''Lilo & Stitch'' at Dunham Park; July 24, ''My Big Fat Greek Wedding'' at Lyons Mall; July 31, ''Stewart Little 2'' at Dewy Meadows Village Center. (908)204-3049.
-- The boroughs of Dunellen and Middlesex are co-sponsoring a movie night in Dunellen. Date, location and film to be announced. (732)752-2466.
-- Live bands precede each feature; music starts at 7 and movies start at sunset, in Constitution Park. June 4, ''Rear Window''; June 11, ''Steamboat Bill Jr.''; June 18, ''Duck Soup''; June 25, ''Star Wars''; July 2, ''The Time of Their Lives''; July 9, ''Robin Hood''; July 16, ''On the Town''; July 23, ''King Kong vs. Godzilla''; July 30, ''Loving You''; Aug. 5, ''The Mummy''; Aug. 13, ''The Big Mouth''; Aug. 20, ''The Rocketeer''; Aug. 27, ''Bye, Bye Birdie''; Sept. 3, ''A Hard Day's Night.'' www.fortleefilm.org
-- June 4, ''Far from Heaven''; June 11, ''Bowling for Columbine''; June 18, ''The Lord of the Rings -- The Two Towers''; June 25, ''Catch Me if You Can''; July 9, ''Frida''; July 16, ''The Hours''; July 23, ''Adaptation''; July 30, ''Chicago''; Aug. 6, ''Big Night''; Aug. 13, ''The Wild Thornberrys''; Aug. 20, ''Spirited Away''; Aug. 27, ''Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.'' All showings are at Pier A Park. (201)420-2207.
-- Aug. 15 at Graydon Pool. Movie to be announced. $5. Open to Ridgewood residents only. (201)670-5560.
-- July 8, July 15, July 22 and July 29 at Riverside Gardens Park. Movies will be announced in June. (732)530-2782.
-- Aug. 6, ''Monsters Inc.''; Aug. 20, ''Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory''; Aug. 27, A Night with the Little Rascals. All showings are at Duke Island Park in Bridgewater. (908)722-1200.
Source: "A Film Tide Turns Civic and Alfresco" by Gretchen Kurtz -New York Times. Read full article at: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E04E5DB123EF93BA25756C0A9659C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all