With its marquee relegated for months to showing cheeky coronavirus-related messages and curbside popcorn delivery times, and its four screens dark since March, Morrisville’s Bijou Cineplex 4 has moved the movies outside.
The theater has set up a pair of drive-in theater sites on the northwest corner of town, near the Route 100/15 roundabout. One of the screens is accessible from the Dunkin Donuts parking lot and the other from Stafford Avenue.
It costs $15 per carload, and there’s popcorn, soft drinks and candy for sale. An FM transmitter broadcasts the audio through your car radio.
Adding to the nostalgic flair is a whiff of local cinema lore in the air; the setup isn’t far from the site of the old Morrisville Drive-In, which stood for decades where the Hannaford grocery store is now.
“You could throw a rock at the old place from here,” said Bill Jarvis, Bijou owner. “There are a lot of people who’ve come in talking about the old drive-in.”
Adding to the classic movie-going experience, the theater is showing only classics on the two large inflatable screens. Last Saturday and Sunday, it was “American Graffiti,” “Jurassic Park,” “E.T.” and “The Mummy.” The first screening, in a nod to the times, was “The Mask.”
Jarvis has brought out themed evenings, too.
A showing of “Smokey and the Bandit” gave special preference to those arriving in 18-wheelers. “Days of Thunder” had cars from the local racecar circuit. The town arranged for “The Sandlot” to be shown July 4 as succor for those missing traditional Independence Day offerings (and avoided the obvious Earth-versus-aliens choice for more innocent fare). He’s arranging for some vintage hot rods at this Friday’s “American Graffiti” screening.
The Bijou’s staff is still familiar from pre-pandemic theater days, including the inimitable Ray Niles, who’s been scooping popcorn and ripping tickets for decades.
“Ray’s an icon. Been there from the early days,” Jarvis said.
The drive-in is subject to Mother Nature’s wiles and a few screenings have had to be canceled or postponed. A forecast of hard rain and thunderstorms will nix a showing, but operations are even more sensitive to high winds. Anything sustained over 7 mph makes things dicey with the inflatable screens, although Jarvis said once they’re set up and secured for the evening, “you can have an occasional gust and things will be fine.”
Jarvis said shows attracted between 50 and 125 cars over the weekend, and he hopes to keep the shows going into October. The idea of doing it every night turned into too much on the logistical side, and weekend business is making up for the darkened theater on the corner of Portland and Bridge streets. Jarvis is always thinking about the next trick up his sleeve, though, to fill the space when the movies aren’t playing. “I was thinking drive-in bingo,” he said.