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Where new technology is closing base theaters

Feb. 13, 2013 - 08:57AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 13, 2013 - 08:57AM  |  
This base theater is one of many that is closing at Army and Air Force bases.
This base theater is one of many that is closing at Army and Air Force bases. (Staff Sgt. Maria Bowman / Air Force)
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Closing theaters

Movie theaters run by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service at these bases have closed:
Dugway Proving
Ground, Utah
Fort Bragg, N.C.
Fort Eustis, Va. •
Fort Gordon, Ga.
Fort Greely, Alaska
Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Fort Lee, Va.
Fort Richardson, Alaska •
Fort Sill, Okla.
Mannheim, Germany
Altus AFB, Okla.
Andrews AFB, Md. •
Barksdale AFB, La.
Bitburg AB, Germany
Cannon AFB, N.M.
Charleston AFB, S.C. •
Dyess AFB, Texas
Ellsworth AFB, S.D.
Fairchild AFB, Wash.
Grand Forks AFB, N.D.
Kirtland AFB, N.M.
Langley AFB, Va. •
Little Rock AFB, Ark.
MacDill AFB, Fla.
Maxwell AFB, Ala.
McConnell AFB, Kan.
Mountain Home AFB, Idaho
Nellis AFB, Nev.
Offutt AFB, Neb.
Patrick AFB, Fla.
Robins AFB, Ga.
Scott AFB, Ill.
Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.
Shaw AFB, S.C.
Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
• Theaters closing at this installation are part of joint bases.

As the movie industry moves to cutting-edge digital picture and sound technology, film fans at 60 military installations are being left behind.

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As the movie industry moves to cutting-edge digital picture and sound technology, film fans at 60 military installations are being left behind.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which runs movie theaters on Army and Air Force installations, has decided it is more cost-effective to shutter 60 theaters than to bear the costs of upgrading the technology, said spokesman Judd Anstey.

The remaining 60 AAFES theaters are being upgraded, at a combined cost of $7.4 million. The closings and the upgrades are expected to be finished by the end of the year.

Anstey said the decisions were made based on where patron attendance at on-base theaters clearly has fallen off in the face of off-base movie venues.

AAFES officials have already closed movie theaters at 36 installations 25 Air Force bases and 11 Army posts. Two overseas locations are on the list, Bitburg and Mannheim in Germany.

The Navy and Marine Corps have decided to upgrade their theaters to digital format without closing any.

"Providing services like this that increase the quality of life for our sailors and their families … is an important part of [the Navy Installations Command] mission," said Pat Foughty, a command spokesman.

The Navy has completed its theater conversions to digital with 3-D capability.

The Marine Corps began converting its 14 theaters from 35mm to digital with 3-D capability in 2010, said Nancy Pasternack, program specialist for the commercial recreation and tourism programs in the Semper Fit and Exchange Services Division.

The final theater to convert, at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

AAFES officials would not provide information on the remaining 24 theaters expected to cease operations by the end of the year.

Anstey said "coordination with local military leadership" is still ongoing in those locations.

By law, military-operated base theaters in the continental U.S. can show only second-run movies not screened until about six weeks after their commercial release in theaters outside base gates. That allows the exchanges to charge less, but it also limits attendance, Anstey said.

The theater business has become far more competitive with multiplex and IMAX theaters in many locations near military installations, Anstey said. A quick check of the 36 theaters that have already closed shows that 22 are in locations with a commercial theater less than 10 miles away, and 11 are in locations with theaters 10 to 15 miles away. Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., is about 20 miles from the nearest theater.

Officials at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, and Fort Greely, Alaska, said their closest theaters are about 35 and 100 miles away, respectively.

Anstey said the explosion of Internet-based entertainment also has "certainly made it easier to stay home and get content delivered directly to one's own living room."

By late this year, the venerable 35mm film format will be virtually extinct in all U.S. theaters.

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