Smack in the middle of glass and steel office buildings in Majorstua in Oslo, Norway sits a building which sticks out like a desert oasis with its Roman columns and monstrous dome shaped roof. It is the largest THX cinema in the world; Colosseum Kino. Almost all the major films premiere here and you can regularly spot die-hard moviegoers camping outside whenever important (or just big) films are about to screen.

A little background
Colosseum Kino opened January 14, 1928 in Oslo, Norway. At the time, it was Scandinavia's biggest and most modern cinema theatre and could seat 2100 people. It was designed by architects Gerhard Iversen and Jacob Hanssen. Built to resemble an amphitheatre covered by a large dome, it quickly established itself as an Oslo landmark.

Colosseum got Cinemascope in 1954, Cinemiracle in 1958 and the ability to screen 70 millimetre film in 1960.

The dome measures 40 metres across and is about the same size as the Pantheon and St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

In February 1963 the cinema burned almost completely to the ground. Just as the Mutiny on the Bounty premiere was about to start, the carpet in front of the screen caught fire. A few hours later the dome collapsed and the Colosseum seemed to be lost forever. The city council decided to rebuild the cinema however, and in September 1964 it re-opened.

With the advent of THX, the Colosseum management decided to try and get their cinema THX certified. This happened in 1995 and the company who got the job initially had a lot of technical headaches. Since Colosseum was built like a cathedral and relied on old fashioned acoustics for propagation of the feeble 1920's cinema sound, it wasn't exactly optimal for large stacks of loudspeakers and the mighty bass rumble of on-screen battles and James Bond-esque explosions.

How do you get THX sound out of a cylindrical building under a dome roof without changing the interior? The answer was lots of strategically placed sound absorbing material and a fair amount of computer simulation.

I witnessed the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan as well as the ear shattering depth-charge scenes in U-571 in Colosseum, and I think they got the sound bits just about right. Although it was really loud sometimes, it still wasn't distorted.

The cinema simultaneously went through an extensive redecoration. The old curved screen was replaced with a flat 22m x 9m screen, the biggest in Scandinavia. Three additional smaller theatres were also built, seating between 115 and 274 people. The smaller theatres usually show children's films and smaller adult films (Nope. No porn.) The major feature showing in the largest theatre (Colosseum 1) is occasionally projected simultaneously on the smaller screen in Colosseum 2.

The technical bits
Colosseum 1:

Colosseum 2, 3 and 4:

In spite of Colosseum being a multiplex (albeit a small one) attracting large crowds any night of the week, it has by no means caved in and gone commercial. The management of Oslo Kinematografer who operates Colosseum on behalf of the city have understood that movies mean more to a lot of people than popcorn and Hollywood stars. Smaller independent films with an audience of perhaps 20 or 50 regularly screens in the smaller theatres. Luckily, almost all cinemas in Norway are owned by the government, operated by agencies or public officials and mostly unrelated to cash flow.

You can still buy popcorn though, and a few years ago they even stopped frisking you at the entrance for soft drinks.

And of course, even though Europeans allegedly have strange taste in films, nobody reads the end credits here either.

Oslo Kinematografer as, Fakta, <>
Colosseum Kino, Historikk: <>

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