Movie premieres don’t always follow the usual script.
Sometimes, the venue is so unorthodox, the concept so ambitious, the movie itself such a draw that the night becomes one of those you-had-to-be-there spectacles.
Monday night’s U.S. preem of “Spider-Man 3” for a crowd 3,000 strong joined that short list, though not in quite the same way as other mega-events in New York — “X-Men” on Ellis Island, “Godzilla” at Madison Square Park or “King Kong” in Times Square. Those were established settings compared with the unlikely one for this bash: a 14-screen Regal multiplex in Astoria, Queens, roughly the East Coast equivalent of Van Nuys.
Why Astoria, land of car dealerships and Archie Bunker? Two main reasons: It’s the hometown of Spidey alter-ego Peter Parker, and the Tribeca Film Festival’s endless quest to bring movies to the masses.
After a parade of stars, marching bands and balloons wound its way to the theater, a line of several hundred people started wrapping around the complex as the 7:30 start time came and went. They were separated by metal police barricades from the neighborhood’s modest homes, used furniture stores and auto body shops. Staff from Sony was around the corner and mostly inside the front doors. Out on the street, it wasn’t at all clear whether the line would be moving.
Would some of the 14 screens start the movie? Would they reach capacity? No one outside had any information. “I dunno, do we have room for a couple theaters more in there?” one of the lone headsetted staffers asked someone inside. Suddenly, it was Blackberries at 10 paces. “Hi, is she in?” impatient attendees asked, phoning offices of people who might know people who could allow a VIP to cut this DMV-like line. Guests huddled to see if a wiser move would be to cut bait and go have dinner. The limo was warming up around the corner. Which way to Manhattan again? The time was 7:55.
The line miraculously moved. “If you have actual tickets, enter this way!” one staffer announced periodically. All but a few people kept shuffling along, gritting whitened teeth. The doors were finally in sight, across from a modest set of bleachers occupied by a few dozen hardy stargazers.
Inside, it was barely controlled chaos. Concession stands quickly ran out of supplies. “Everybody take your seats, please, the movie is about to start!” one employee called out, sounding like that rube in “Animal House” crying out “All is well!” The time was 8:15.
Finally, the lights went down. It was 8:30, an hour late. When the expensive, shimmering summer popcorn action had let up, it was time for the crowd to head down the block, to another line, past chain stores and a school bearing the proud sign “this is a drug-free school zone!” for the vibrant, red-bedecked after-party at the fabled Kaufman-Astoria Studios.
Once curiosity and appetite were sated, the final quest: finding the way back across the East River past midnight. The security personnel were not completely sure of directions to the subway. “Maybe follow those people?” one suggested. “I think it’s 34th,” another offered. “No, 31st. No, 33rd.” Right on cue, a taxi appeared.
Related review: ‘Spider-Man 3’