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‘Big One’: Opens Wednesday : Complex: Designer of entertainment edifice used glamour as cornerstone for ‘the plaza of the ‘90s.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Marios Savopoulos, director of design at the Newport Beach office of MPR Inc., enjoys designing entertainment centers, and the big budgets are just one reason he cites.

“The movie business is about fun,” he says. “You do a lot of scenography and stage setting in the interiors, and you get a chance to do special things.”

At his latest completed project--the $27-million Edwards 21 at Irvine Spectrum--the sense of quasi-imperial splendor and entitlement begins with the siting of the building. “All the streets are pointed toward the entry,” Savopoulos notes.

The facade boasts 80-foot towers outfitted with vertical, cantilevered “blade” signs that can be seen from the San Diego and Santa Ana freeways.

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A cornice frieze, with decorative 3-D patterns that grow larger toward the entrance, wraps around the entire building, livening up exterior walls that would have had more razzle-dazzle details, Savopoulos says, had the Irvine Co. not insisted on plain white. More than two miles of neon will blaze from the retro-styled marquees.

Walking up to the entrance, visitors will be greeted by tropical landscaping--meant to be reminiscent of escapist B movies--and a monumental staircase.

Savopoulos, who stresses the role of entertainment centers as “catalysts to city revitalization,” says the layout reminds him of the Piazza Navona in Rome: “One side is restaurants and seating; the other side is a big Baroque church. In this [design], the church is replaced by the theater. I’m not trying to be sacrilegious, but this is the plaza for the ‘90s.”

Indoors, the 42-foot-tall, 15,000-square-foot lobby continues the feeling of outsize glamour: It is twice as lofty as its next-biggest sibling in the Edwards chain, the La Verne 12-screen theater. Stone inlays and other ornamental motifs link the lobby with the terrace outside, giving the effect of “one big living room,” according to Savopoulos.

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At 158,000 square feet, the building purports to be the largest cinema in the world. (Savopoulos says the runner-up, a 30-screen theater in Belgium, is about 95,000 square feet; Cineplex in Universal City is 90,000 square feet.)

Despite its size, the 6,400-seat cinema was designed for efficiency of access. Escalators will whisk patrons upstairs to the theaters, which are distinguished from each other by themed gateways, mosaics and murals as tall as 40 feet, creating what Savopoulos calls a “streetscape” of diverse visual effects.

One of the four giant-screen (40-by-80-foot) theaters in the central building has a Hollywood theme with imagery that includes a “close-up” of silver screen lovers photographed by a cameraman, and a dancing couple a la Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, while another will evoke a 1920s movie palace.

The two other big-screen theaters are heralded by imagery meant to evoke ancient Egypt and imperial China--picture-book stereotypes that echo the exotica favored by architects of the early movie theaters.

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A futuristic gateway incorporating abundant metallic ornament heralds the IMAX theater, which will boast a 90-foot-tall screen--the height of a six-story building--when it opens in January.

Two large “stadium” theaters will accommodate the audience in continental-style tiered seating, with long rows of seats and only two aisles. But patrons will have a princely 48 inches of leg room--"much more than at the [similarly configured] Orange County Performing Arts Center,” Savopoulos says.

He hopes the ornamental touches will turn the building into a larger-than-life stage set. The building, he says, is “intended to have a palatial feel everywhere you go.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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MORE ON THE BIG ONE

* WHAT’S WHERE: A look inside. B2

* WHAT’S PLAYING: The movies scheduled for opening day. A50

* WHAT’S COMING: Will The Big One make a difference in what movies you’ll get to see? In Wednesday’s Calendar

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* WHAT’S COOKING: Max Jacobson checks out the restaurants and concessions at the Irvine Entertainment Center. In Thursday’ OC Live!


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