Brian VanderBeek

Galaxy brings MNF to silver screen

RIVERBANK -- The visual experience was too gruesome for words, but if people really wanted to see it, Galaxy Theatres was willing to make the presentation available.

But first, patrons had to prove they were at least 21 years old. And since the theater wasn't charging admission to the grisly spectacle, attendees were escorted directly from the front doors to Auditorium No. 7, where they had to pass by two security men in badges.

Inside, the overhead lights remained illuminated so people could come and go as they pleased during the three-hour presentation. They even had beer on hand inside the theater so people could cope alcoholically with what they were seeing unfold on the screen.

If you think the 37-inch image of the 49ers playing on your home television is frightening, imagine the gut-churning impact of watching that offense on a 50-foot, high-definition movie screen.

Now that's a horror show.

Galaxy is the first theater in the area to offer Monday Night Football to its patrons, a program it started this year in the second week of the season. Per NFL rule, it isn't allowed to charge admission, and it had to find a non-profit group to handle the beer sales.

According to Ryan Nelson, the theater's assistant general manager, in-house and word-of-mouth advertising has resulted in an average of 50 people for the usual Monday night game. The Dallas-Buffalo game on Oct. 8 lured about 75 people, and roughly 100 were on hand for last Monday's 49ers-Seattle debacle.

There's room for plenty more, and Nelson's goal is to fill the No. 7 auditorium -- the largest in the cineplex at 386 seats -- on a weekly basis. This Monday's game features Tennessee at Denver.

"I would love to pack the theater every week, so it hasn't yet risen to my hopes," Nelson said. "But an average of 50 people for the first year, from what I've heard, is pretty good."

Monday Night Football seems a natural fit for a movie theater. Monday historically is the slowest movie-going night, and ESPN took the lead from ABC and produces the game in a grand cinematic style.

The combination of a high-definition signal process through the Galaxy's all-digital projection system makes for breath-taking, crystal-clear picture and sound.

It's all done with the NFL's blessing, which begs the question why no theater has done it before.

"Our Las Vegas theater started this last season and was the one that made contact with the league," Nelson said. "The only request the NFL had was that we do it all season long and that we don't charge. The NFL would have a problem with theaters showing just the Super Bowl, or of course with anybody who charges for admission."

The Galaxy plans to show every Monday night game for the rest of the season and will screen the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2008. Nelson would like to expand the series to show playoff games, but those are played on weekends and would be a tough sell to the corporate office.

"If we can show the bosses that we can get the crowds on Saturdays and Sundays, they'll let us do it," Nelson said.

About 30 minutes before kickoff last Monday, the first brave souls began to stroll in and choose their seats. The first was George Baker of Modesto's Fireside Film Foundation, the non-profit organization handling the beer sales that required the theater to invoke a 21-and-over rule.

"We try to keep tight control on it," Baker said. "Nobody is allowed to buy more than three beers, which cuts our sales a little bit. But in the first three weeks, we've done about $300 and the beer is donated, so that's pure profit."

Between pouring American lagers into plastic cups, Baker watches the game.

"I'm a longtime 49ers and Raiders football fan," Baker said. "I know that on this screen, every mistake is amplified."

Just then on the screen, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was shown warming up. Cue the Hitchcock soundtrack.

At the top of the auditorium, Allen Powell was cozying in with a tub of popcorn.

"This is my second time here," Powell said. "I live across the street, so I'm coming here from now on for Monday night. The viewing, the seat and the atmosphere is just perfect. I have a 43-inch television at home and it's not hi-def, so this is a very big step up for me."

When the game started, the full visual scale of the theater experience was immediately evident. Galaxy is getting its signal from the ESPN-HD feed, so patrons get the full 16:9 screen ratio in perfect corner-to-corner focus.

Some live observations from this theater football newbie:

The sound is muted during commercials and replaced by music supplied by the in-house DJ. What else but 80s rock anthems? Perfect.

NFL officials won't appreciate the theater experience for two reasons: First, theater patrons get a much better view of the plays under review than referees ever will get under that hood. Second, hi-def wasn't kind to lead referee Larry Nemmers. Makeup, anyone?

You really get the feel of how loud Seattle's stadium can get as quarterback Matt Hasselbeck shreds the 49ers' rush-three, drop-eight, cover-zero defense.

Maurice Morris hasn't looked this good running the ball since he left Fresno City College.

If this game wasn't on, the movie "Lions for Lambs" would be showing in this auditorium. The Tom Cruise-Meryl Streep-Robert Redford vehicle is the only thing right now grading out worse than the 49ers' offensive line.

Parking and admission are free, waitresses are on hand to serve drinks and food, the restrooms are clean, the beer ($3 per cup) is reasonable, and no one in front of you is waving a foam finger. Am I in heaven?

"It's great sitting here watching the game," said Kim Himenes of Riverbank. "I went to the Raiders' game in person (the day before), but this is better because you get to see everything up close. And they bring food to you here. At Raider games, they throw food at you."

There are six more Monday Night Games on ESPN's schedule before the NFL gets into its postseason. And because the 49ers won't play in any of them, there's a good chance I'll be back.

My stomach can take only so much.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at or 578-2300.