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Size Does Matter
May 12, 2009 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Been to your local cineplex lately and seen IMAX Digital on the menu? Been tempted to pay the extra $5 or so for the expected 7-story screen and mammoth sound?

Well step back and think again. The LF Examiner examines the new "IMAX Digital" format and why it's so disappointing. Comedian Anziz Anzari tries to get a refund after seeing Star Trek on a tiny "IMAX" screen. Apparently not all IMAX screens are created equal.
posted by hippybear (85 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Are you sure he's a comedian? Notwithstanding that he is dead right in that cinemas now call any fairly large screen IMAX, nit the six-storey-tall, cardiac-arrest inducing things I used to see growing up,he manages to come off as a cionsiderable asspocket in his recounted dialogue with some hapless cinema employee. The surreal bit though: At the end of the lengthy "Give me $5! Give me $5!" diatribe, we arrive at the Bobby Bitman moment --

UPDATE: In addition to this terrible tragedy, there are also terrible things going on in Darfur. Please Google around for more info on how to help there.

The hell you say. You sound very concerned.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:53 PM on May 12, 2009


ricochet biscuit: "the Bobby Bitman moment"

I wish we'd been able to watch Chariots of Eggs in IMAX.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:55 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


It might well be better than a normal multiplex screen but really it ignores the point that the real attraction of an imax screen is that IT'S WAY TOO BIG. That's it. Oh high resolution extrafadality stereomagic. Fuck that noise. Is the screen WAY TOO BIG? No? Not Imax. Want to go to see the superbowl at a friends house, you won't be like Gary's TV has such great black levels and a really great refresh rate but Paul's TV is 67" you will be like "Fuck Gary he sucks". I know there's nuance. I don't give a shit. The Imax experience is sitting in front of a way too big screen. I ended that sentence with a period just so I didn't have to write the word 'period'.
posted by I Foody at 3:57 PM on May 12, 2009 [48 favorites]


Aziz is Bored

You don't say.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:58 PM on May 12, 2009


I paid something like $7 extra to see Watchmen in "IMAX digital" at a local supermegamultiplex. I was certainly expecting the mammoth all-enveloping wraparound screen I'd encountered at proper IMAX theaters in the past, and was at first disappointed that it turned out to be an only-slightly-larger-than-normal screen.

However, by the second time Dr. Manhattan's giant floppy blue penis was blazoned in all its glory across the screen, I was pretty relieved it wasn't 7 stories tall.
posted by dersins at 4:01 PM on May 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


Add a bad sound system to the list of complaints. You can't just drop an "IMAX" screen in an old theatre and leave the speakers alone. The sound systems in original IMAX theatres was truly something to show off. Now they do their little opening demo and it's like, WTF was that?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:05 PM on May 12, 2009


I've never been to an IMAX theatre, but we recently had one open locally, and I've been waiting for the right movie to come in to check it out. After reading the LF Examiner piece, I did a little searching and found out that our local IMAX has a 70 ft wide by 42 ft high screen, which is apparently acceptable according to the Wikipedia-stated average of 72 ft wide by 53 ft high for an IMAX. If I paid extra to see an IMAX film and it was on a screen only slightly larger than an average normal screen, I'd be highly pissed, no matter what the picture and sound quality. As I Foody says above, size matters.
posted by Robin Kestrel at 4:05 PM on May 12, 2009


I Foody -- You got it down, man. Craning your neck this way and that for an hour and a half in an IMAX theater is the opposite of pleasure. And when you come right down to it, IMAX is good for only one thing: flying. Unless your doing that stomach-fluttering flying-over-the-landscape thing (the first and last word of which is to be found in the very first IMAX release, "To Fly"), IMAX is less cinematic than Johnson-Jeffries fight on flipcards in a nickleodeon.
posted by Faze at 4:05 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The original IMAX ran at 48 fps, but that was quickly abandoned as being impractical, after a number of compatible projectors were installed. I've been disappointed by frame jitter at some IMAX screenings, but I'd write that off to poor maintenance. IMAX projectors incorporate some pretty amazing optical technology, but, alas, it's not very practical when compared to ordinary projection.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:06 PM on May 12, 2009


The the IMAX at the AMC theater by me is complete bullshit. If it were the same price, I'd prefer it, but I wouldn't pay more for it.
posted by empath at 4:11 PM on May 12, 2009


Craning your neck this way and that for an hour and a half in an IMAX theater is the opposite of pleasure.

You must hate planetariums. See, here's the thing: you don't have to crane your neck, but suddenly you have a use for your peripheral vision. When I saw Apocalypse Now on the big screen, it blew me away. Think about the opening helicopter scene. Now imagine those helicopters flying past you. You don't have to crane your neck to follow them. That's not necessary for the effect.

That being said, I don't think The Paper Chase would be improved by Giant Screen treatment, but I saw the Matrix and a few other action-y types on IMAX screens and it was pretty great.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:12 PM on May 12, 2009


Wait, make that Matrix Reloaded, and correspondingly only so-so great.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:13 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was lucky enough to catch Star Trek at the Lincoln Center IMAX screen at the Loews AMC and it did not disappoint. It was worth the extra money to see it on such a large screen. I took my usual seat in the last row where you can take in the entire screen without craning your neck and still have a completely overwhelming and immersive experience.
posted by cazoo at 4:15 PM on May 12, 2009


I took my usual seat in the last row

The (arguably) correct place to sit is in the center, half the width of the screen back, so that would be 35 feet back. This places you in the geometrically correct viewpoint for what would be a 50 mm lens used on 35 mm film, which is the "normal" condition.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:20 PM on May 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


Maybe I should have gone to see Watchmen on an IMAX screen for the big blue floppy penis experience. Aside from a brief, "The guy rebuilds himself from the ground up with extra muscles but decides to leave off the foreskin. Hunh. You think he'd rock the turtleneck." moment, I didn't much pick up on it.

And now I feel left out.
posted by adipocere at 4:22 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


What does the size of the screen have to do with anything? It's how much of your peripheral vision is occupied. If there's a small screen combined with fewer, closer seats; you might have a better viewing experience than on a 72' IMAX.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:24 PM on May 12, 2009


No, no I haven't. But thanks for asking.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:26 PM on May 12, 2009


What does the size of the screen have to do with anything?

That's kind of like saying why do race cars go 200 mph, when they could just as well go 100 mph on a track half the size. Part of the fun is that they are pushing the limits of what is possible.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:27 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


ATTENTION ALL

IMAX is a deception.

It is a bad.

Watching a movie intended for a regular movie screen in the IMAX format is highly problematic. Even sitting way back in the last row, the screen is to large to get a sense of what is happening on screen. In short, you can't see anything. People like the sensation of "getting lost" in the image which would be well in good were it not for the fact that these images were shot for a different effect. Every time I've seen an IMAX film, I've been like "Cool! It's batman's hand. I wonder what else is happening on the screen." What's worse is that many of the largest screens are actually different aspect ratios and the movies are RE-CUT to a the smaller aspect ratio like they did for VHS. Yup. Most of the time you're missing actual widescren and intended images because you "wanted it a bigger screen." sometimes they've even resorted to vhs-like pan and scan. It's awful.

Now this isn't to say that movies shot specifically for IMAX are problematic, no. That's just fine. Those movies are shot to be all encompassing and draw you into an environment. Most of the action happens in the center of the screen with your peripheral vision being filled up by peripheral non-important details. A regular movie, on the other hand, is shot so that you can look at. And when it is project on imax, you only get drawn into a fraction of the events on screen. It actually has a horrible effect.

But people are so freaking certain that a bigger screen is better so they flock to IMAX and pay more for a subpar viewing experience. I really don't get it. People are getting duped.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 4:32 PM on May 12, 2009 [16 favorites]


I saw Star Trek in IMAX last night and discovered that it is a really bad idea to be wearing progressive lenses (no-line bifocals for you youngsters out there) that close to the screen.

I sacrificed a bit of clarity of vision in order to avoid throwing up.
posted by Araucaria at 4:33 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


You must hate planetariums. See, here's the thing: you don't have to crane your neck, but suddenly you have a use for your peripheral vision. When I saw Apocalypse Now on the big screen, it blew me away. Think about the opening helicopter scene. Now imagine those helicopters flying past you. You don't have to crane your neck to follow them. That's not necessary for the effect.

The films that work for this are just rather formally uninteresting. It's the gray area between film and thrill ride, and I would rather ride a real rollercoaster and see a real, whole film. When I consider the kind of thoughtful scale and framing used for the early 70mm films and even for the early anamorphic pictures, considering watching something as overwhelming as The Dark Knight in IMAX sounds horrid to me. I like to feel free to roam over the screen, observing details on the edges, enjoying the limits of the frame, being encouraged to interact with the whole space by artful cinematography.

The only thing I dislike more than an overlarge screen is a single-chip DLP projector, which punishes the viewer for actively interrogating the image with the accursed "rainbow effect." *makes shaking white-knuckled fists*
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:36 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


The IMAX shadiness aside, Aziz Ansari really comes off as a whiny douchetard in this blog post.
posted by signalnine at 4:50 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aziz: You know what Twitter is? I have 25,000 followers...

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Venadium at 4:57 PM on May 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


My most disappointing screen experience was not IMAX, though. It was going to see Princess Mononoke on the only movie screen in the DC area showing it at Dupont Circle.

I was so excited to see anime on 'the big screen'. And then I got into the theater and there were, no kidding, 4 rows of 8 seats each, just stereo sound, and a screen maybe the size of a really big plasma tv.

I was so disappointed.

Still a good movie, though.
posted by empath at 5:01 PM on May 12, 2009


My favorite IMAX Classicâ„¢ experience was on a sweltering day in Las Vegas. I was a kid, and for some crazy reason my family went to Las Vegas in the summer, and we were tromping around, trying to find something interesting to do and stay out of the heat. We came across an IMAX theater, showing something like Tropical Rainforest. We were all hot and gross, so sitting in a theater for a while sounded like a great idea. And it was. The seats were reclined, and the theater arched over us. You could turn around if you wanted to, but we were content to sit back and stare, goggle-eyed, as the lush world passed us by. There wasn't a plot to follow (from what I remember), no characters or development of story, but it was a great way to cool off in Las Vegas and relax.

Trying to pawn off a bigger-than-average/normal theater screen as an "IMAX theater" is a cheap trick, and annoying to boot. If the movie wasn't designed to be overwhelming, then they're doing it wrong.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:06 PM on May 12, 2009


Guest Services: Well sir, you watched the whole movie, you could have come out and we could have given you tickets to a different one.

Hey, I ate this hot dog. It was awful, but I was hungry and though it might get better by the end. But it didn't. I want a refund. What, why are you laughing? It was an awful hot dog!
posted by filthy light thief at 5:09 PM on May 12, 2009


Aziz Ansari's bit is pretty much to act like an asshole, I guess you people have never heard of him.
posted by dead cousin ted at 5:10 PM on May 12, 2009


Aziz Ansari's bit is pretty much to act like an asshole,

So he's sort of a Tom-Green-meets-Ali-G-at-the-LA-meetup-for-Douchebags-Unlimited-and-they-have-a-bastard-child-who's-even-less-funny-than-either-of-them?
posted by dersins at 5:14 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: Dr. Manhattan's giant floppy blue penis
posted by DU at 5:15 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm amazed IMAX would dilute their trademark this way. Then again it's not a particularly exciting property; as noted above quote eloquently, IMAX is a lousy way to watch normal movies.
posted by Nelson at 5:19 PM on May 12, 2009


It's like; the screen scrolls and the blue just goes on and on...
posted by buzzman at 5:26 PM on May 12, 2009


DU: I think you mean Metafilter: Dr. Manhattan's unprofessional blue penis
posted by theclaw at 5:31 PM on May 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Aziz Ansari is the best thing about Parks and Recreation, and if you've never seen Human Giant you need to get on that.
posted by Roman Graves at 5:35 PM on May 12, 2009


Every time I've seen an IMAX film, I've been like "Cool! It's batman's hand."
Wait, all IMAX movies have Batman?
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 5:36 PM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I've never seen a regular movie on an IMAX screen but I have often wondered what it would be like since those movies weren't designed to be watched on an IMAX screen, they'd just be really fucking big. Nothing like the immersive experience of the previously mentioned flying-over-the-landscape thing. Seemed like they'd be less enjoyable on a giant screen.
posted by dead cousin ted at 5:36 PM on May 12, 2009


Engadget covered this today. I'm too lazy to link to it. The gist of it is that in a smaller-screen IMAX theater they sit you much closer to the screen vs an older IMAX theater where you're farther back. Ergo it has a equivalent perceptual value.
posted by GuyZero at 5:38 PM on May 12, 2009


Gizmodo just did an overview on the differences between a classic IMAX and an IMAX retrofit.
posted by jbickers at 5:43 PM on May 12, 2009


this was all worth it because below this post, he links to this.
posted by saul wright at 5:50 PM on May 12, 2009


Whoops, Gizmodo. It's easy to get the two uber-gadget blogs confused.
posted by GuyZero at 5:51 PM on May 12, 2009


Whoops, Gizmodo. It's easy to get the two uber-gadget blogs confused.

They are practically carbon copies of one another, anyway. Kinda makes you wonder where, if anywhere, content actually originates.
posted by jbickers at 5:53 PM on May 12, 2009


It's so nice to hear I'm not alone in not wanting to see regular movies on the giant IMAX screens. Some of my movie-going friends pester me about it sometimes, but to me, if the movie was not shot with the special IMAX camera for an IMAX-sized screen, then what the hell is the point? To me, IMAX is about the visual-field-filling images that are designed to induce the sensation of actual movement. When I was a kid in Kansas City area, we'd go to Worlds of Fun which had this thing - I forget what they called it - but it was a dome-shaped theater where the screen was half of the dome, and you'd stand in it while they showed a film made from cameras on airplanes and roller coasters. So you felt like you were "flying," complete with stomach lurches.

Or right now, in the Disney parks, they have this ride called "Soarin'" where you actually get hoisted up in a suspended chair in front of a huge IMAX-type screen.

That, to me, is what the super-big IMAX's are for. Not for Spiderman, Batman, Star Trek, or Harry Potter.

I did consider seeing Batman at the IMAX because parts of it were filmed for it - but here's the next catch. I'm in Chicago now, and Navy Pier's IMAX allows reserved seat selection when you buy online in advance. And I've heard from many people that if you can't get the center seats, from the middle to the back of the theater, then it's not really worth it. And those sell out weeks in advance. Meanwhile, I can go to the AMC River East just a few blocks west and have a perfectly fine movie experience for less money, without tons of advance scheduling.

I hadn't heard about these new "IMAX Digital" things with the smaller screens. I'm glad I read about this first. Now I know to avoid them too.
posted by dnash at 5:56 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Every time I've seen an IMAX film, I've been like "Cool! It's batman's hand."

Wait, all IMAX movies have Batman?
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 5:36 PM on May 12 [+] [!]


haha. good point. However the inferred meaning is i get to notice some non-focal point of the action, such as batman's hand, or yoda's feet. or some other lower-centrical detail on the screen.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 5:57 PM on May 12, 2009


Man, it's amazing that you guys can focus in to see the kids on your lawn.

If wanting to be blown out of my chair by freaking huge explosions in Star Trek is wrong, I don't want to be right.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:09 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


IMAX Digitalâ„¢. It's slightly bigger... TO THE MAX!
posted by ALongDecember at 6:25 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


this was all worth it because below this post, he links to this.

WHAT.
THE.
FUCK.
MATT[HEW MCCONAUGHEY]?

That's a thing? Like, that's a real thing? Yikes.
posted by youarenothere at 6:35 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]



Man, it's amazing that you guys can focus in to see the kids on your lawn.

If wanting to be blown out of my chair by freaking huge explosions in Star Trek is wrong, I don't want to be right.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:09 PM on May 12 [+] [!]


Um... I think you're missing the point. I love the huge explosions too... I just like seeing ALL of the explosion. I like seeing the edges of the frame and all the incredible amount of work that went into the movie. This was a professional cinematographer filming something and thinking so carefully about their choices. I don't like seeing a fraction of what I was intended to see and ruining my experience. And I'm sorry, it's not a matter of just looking at pretty pictures. The way we see a movie directly impacts our emotional response to the movie, it is a part of a film's "tone."

And IMAX simply obliterates all sense of tone. there's just a big bunch of stuff happening that I can't really make out. And that seems to be what you want. You want the big loud noise and that blows you out of your seat and you're saying you don't care about the movie. You think I'm some overt-intellectualizing ninny, but I studied how films work: projection, mise en scene. I went to school for it. Seriously, it's I'm just trying to appropriate this but it's like telling a engineer that his facts and equations are stupid and they should just enjoy the big loud car with the engine that catches fire. I know how film experiences work. What you're doing is obliterating the intended tones of the movie.

Then again you pretty much said it your self: you "don't want to be right."
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 6:40 PM on May 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


The first time the guy in the balloon went over the falls in "To Fly" I thought I was gonna hurl. It was one of the most awesome things of my youth, on top of the general coolness of being witness to the opening months of the Air and Space museum. I had no idea IMAX was bastardizing its brand like this.
posted by docpops at 6:40 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait, all IMAX movies have Batman?

Just his hand.
posted by aaronetc at 6:43 PM on May 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


By the way, I realize everything I say reeks of "the people don't know what they want!?!?! I know what's better for them!!!" but... you know... I kind of don't know what else to do, so I'm just spreading the news about how IMAX affects films negatively. That's all.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 6:44 PM on May 12, 2009


I saw that Rolling Stones concert movie on the Lincoln Center screen mentioned in the Examiner article, amplified to concert-level volume.

I was very, very rocked.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:00 PM on May 12, 2009


dnash: "When I was a kid in Kansas City area, we'd go to Worlds of Fun which had this thing - I forget what they called it - but it was a dome-shaped theater where the screen was half of the dome, and you'd stand in it while they showed a film made from cameras on airplanes and roller coasters. So you felt like you were "flying," complete with stomach lurches."

The Incred-O-Dome. It was in the park from 1981 to 1997.
posted by TypographicalError at 7:04 PM on May 12, 2009


@stickycarpet, the actual size of the Lincoln Square IMAX is not that long but actually just very wide so sitting in the back row is not terribly far from the distance to the screen, just far enough to take in the entire image without being lost in it.
posted by cazoo at 7:16 PM on May 12, 2009


The biggest problem I experienced with Trek on a retro-fit IMAX was the FX only shots looked really really bad, totally video-gamey. Also, (hey you kids) it was so loud I left with a headache (get off my lawn).

still a great movie though
posted by askmehow at 7:17 PM on May 12, 2009


Imax does not equal omnimax. Imax is big, omnimax is what they have in children's museums.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 7:32 PM on May 12, 2009


In case you were wondering, Lincoln Square IMAX: $18.50 per ticket.
posted by smackfu at 7:39 PM on May 12, 2009


Speaking of Dr. Manhattan's giant floppy blue penis blazoned in all its glory across the screen, I met a guy who knew a guy who was friends with the guy whose sole job for eight months was to animate the schlong (no it wasn't HuronBob). Actually the importance of his job was to make sure the penis did not flop around. I guess the reason being is if there was movement the rating would have jumped up to NC-17.

I thought Aziz Ansari was funny on Human Giant and he isn't bad on Parks and Recreation.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:45 PM on May 12, 2009


I dunno, I got an infantile kick out of seeing my credit 40 feet long and six feet tall on the last thing I worked on that had an IMAX DMR upconvert. Progressive-bifocal-wearing image-picky center-seats-only VFX geek that I am, there was something to be said for that moment, and it was mostly "HURR HURR OMG MY NAME IS HUGE."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:18 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I absolutely adore the classic IMAX movies, and Soarin' at Epcot - a ride in front of a huge IMAX screen - is absolutelyfrickinamazing.

I was disappointed in the AMC IMAX experience the first time, which was for Watchmen. It was nowhere near the experience that I expected. But then I saw Watchmen in a regular theater, and the projector was bad, the screen was bad, and the overall experience was pretty bad. If I have to pay extra to ensure that I get the showings with a digital projector, the best screen in the house, and the best sound system in the house, I'm OK with that, even if it's not "proper" IMAX.

You only make the mistake once. If you didn't like it, don't pay extra next time. If they want to dilute their trademark and piss of the operators of "classic" IMAX screens, let them.
posted by gemmy at 8:18 PM on May 12, 2009


The IMAX Corporation couldn't be doing this at a worse time. Just when The Dark Knight came out last year with its footage shot in the actual IMAX format and was a huge success. Now there are other movies beginning to shoot scenes in IMAX. Just when there is all this momentum building, they decide to cheapen their brand and ruin their reputation.

They won't survive this. The company will sell at a fire sale share price some time in the next 18-24 months. Bankruptcy is likely as well.
posted by Potsy at 9:12 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


This brings the iMax experience to a lot more people. They should distinguish though, say IMAX Grande and IMAX Venti. I saw the Rolling Stones movie in the merely Grande IMAX theater in Austin and it was cool. Watching a POV movie of a plane flying between the twin towers in a Venti theater at the Liberty Science Center was bordering on reality.
posted by caddis at 9:58 PM on May 12, 2009


yeah, imax blows. outside of a very few films (the ones on the shuttle/space station), imax sucks like a cd-rom, all tech and no content. the worst, most inaccurate, most poorly researched science films i have ever seen have all been imax features. like srsly, if you're gonna blow that kind of money to produce an imax film, wouldn't you throw in a couple of bucks to get somebody who knows what the hell they're talking about? the worst was the one with all the computer generated dinosaurs. it was like someone threw a hundred million dollars at a book report written by a seven-year-old. i remember it ended with the line "did dinosaurs come from eggs? maybe we'll never know." i about screamed.

and lacking subtlety nailed it as far as the hollywood stuff goes...movies made for a widescreen just don't work on a square one. and they're never going to make them for a square screen that accounts for like .05% of market share.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:12 PM on May 12, 2009


OMNIMAX was (is?) so much cooler than IMAX.

Going to the OMNIMAX every day might have been the best part of space camp.

That's right bitches, I went to space camp.
posted by flaterik at 10:39 PM on May 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


OMNIMAX? so there is a trademark differential lacking some marketing. I guess the money is in the puny theaters.
posted by caddis at 11:23 PM on May 12, 2009


...and IMAX simply obliterates all sense of tone. there's just a big bunch of stuff happening that I can't really make out...
posted by Lacking Subtlety


So, basically, you're saying that IMAX lacks...what is the word I'm looking for here?
posted by davejay at 2:24 AM on May 13, 2009


Hmmm...Corporation makes it's name with spectacular product, then rides the profit gravy-train by degrading product quality while trading on the positive public perception of the name?

Really?

I'm shocked.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:32 AM on May 13, 2009


I haven't seen an IMAX movie since I was a kid. I also haven't read the article.

Still, I can't help but share my experience of watching the first IMAX movie, "To Fly" back in the 70's on an authentic IMAX screen.

We came in to this huge auditorium with this amazingly large screen. Three stories high? It was something like that, and the seats were tiered on this really steep slope. I was sitting in the center with my friends, and even before the movie started I was a little dizzy.

Then the lights went down, and the movie started... but it was just on this small part of the screen. I remember thinking, "Hey, what's up with that?"

It was just teasing us, of course. Then, suddenly (it seemed to me), the film expands to the entire screen, and we're flying through the Grand Canyon, and my child brain is just blown away.

I don't know of anything that's had the same effect on me. Decades later, I still dream of that movie.

Now, of course, it's all ruined by thoughts of Dr. Manhattan's giant floppy blue penis.

Thanks so much.
posted by math at 5:08 AM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The two movies I've seen on the new IMAX Digital screen near me (Watchmen and Star Trek) have had bars at the top and bottom of the screen, so their original aspect ratios were preserved. The sound for Watchmen was spectacular--not so much for Star Trek, but that may have been because that's a generally noisy, bombastic movie throughout.

The advent of these screens might have to do with the fact that movie theaters now find themselves competing with home theater setups. If you have a Blu-ray player, a 1080p HDTV and a surround sound system in your livingroom, it's hard to justify taking the trip to pay $9 to sit in a theater that may well offer a lesser viewing experience (with poor projection and sound, plus talking neighbors), especially when the film will be released for home video in a few months. I'm happy to pay $14 to see a summer movie on an IMAX Digital screen, though.
posted by Prospero at 5:41 AM on May 13, 2009


The only feature film I've seen on an IMAX screen was Fantasia 2000 when I was super high and it was fantastic. I haven't seen it since, but I'd guess that it doesn't really need the widescreen effect to work. In other words, the more square-ish IMAX screen was fine for something like that, but for widescreen movies I'd feel like I was watching a movie on HBO circa 1986. Screen size ratio matters.
posted by zardoz at 6:19 AM on May 13, 2009


The IMAX movie about Red Flag is pretty awesome.
posted by garlic at 8:06 AM on May 13, 2009


Fuck IMAX. I'm all about OMNI. I may hate Disney, but Roving Mars was the bomb in Omni.
posted by Eideteker at 8:14 AM on May 13, 2009


I saw Superman in the regular theaters and then later on the giant IMAX (also IN 3-D!!!!). I didn't think the 3-D added much, but the widescreen actually did improve things a bit.
posted by Karmakaze at 8:20 AM on May 13, 2009


How did all those lens flares in Star Trek look in Imax? I bet they were EXTREME to the MAX.
posted by littlerobothead at 8:22 AM on May 13, 2009


All this IMAX hating seems to be from people confusing watching a regular format film shown on an IMAX screen with watching an IMAX format film on an IMAX screen. The later is awesome, the first is usually lame. A regular film just looks grainy and stretched on 3 story screen. They should call these new screens something besides IMAX since I can't imagine how they could fit the screen in a theater that wasn't built with in mind.
posted by Tashtego at 9:00 AM on May 13, 2009


Seconding the OMNIMAX/Space Camp thing!
posted by zsazsa at 9:29 AM on May 13, 2009


I'm not really the intended audience for this thread, since I didn't even know that you could watch regular movies on "Imax" screens but I have to say that if you take six assorted children on the water taxi in Baltimore to see MOVEMENT or ROLLER COASTER or FLY AROUND UPSIDE DOWN A LOT or whatever the IMAX film du jour is at the Maryland Science Center, then three of those children will throw up in the theater.

The other three will throw up in the water taxi.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:01 AM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Enjoyed new Trek on a local Imax. Sat in the third to last row with legroom into the aisle. Even there, the screen stretches to periphery for greater immersion.

For me, it is not so much about the screen tho. It used to be about the big, wide film and the detail afforded. Does 'digital' Imax have a corresponding screen resolution? I would expect so.

Even better - Monsters vs. Aliens in IMAX 3D. That was beauteriffic!
posted by mouthnoize at 10:57 AM on May 13, 2009


Many years ago (before every megaplex claimed to have IMAX theatres) I went to see Jurassic Park in an actual IMAX theatre with an actual IMAX-sized screen. Having seen actual made-for-IMAX movies there before, I was sorely disappointed when the movie started and it as this tiny little rectangle on the massive screen. The picture may very well have been larger-than-average but all the unused screen provided the opposite effect.
posted by howling fantods at 11:02 AM on May 13, 2009


howling fantods: the reason for your Jurassic Park experience is, that film has never been remastered into IMAX format, which involves scanning the frames, blowing them up to 4x their original size, and then running a computer process on it to reduce the resulting film grain image noise.

They were likely just using that theater to provide extra seats to show the film. It certainly was NOT the kind of presentation one would get from seeing, say, Apollo 13 in IMAX format.
posted by hippybear at 11:15 AM on May 13, 2009


hippybear: Oh I realize that, and in retrospect I should have known better. However it was being promoted as a big event - "See Jurassic Park in IMAX!"1 - which is why I felt duped. The theatre in question still primarily shows proper IMAX films.

1It was probably more like "See Jurassic Park on the IMAX screen!"
posted by howling fantods at 11:45 AM on May 13, 2009


Prospero: the point of the LF Examiner article is that IMAX has cheapened their brand by actually lowering their quality to be the same as that of a home theater: 2K resolution. The old-style 70mm / 15-perf IMAX system has vastly more image information than any home format currently available or on the horizon. You are correct that theaters need to do something compete with home entertainment, but these IMAX Digital systems are actually a step in the opposite direction. And as I mentioned upthread, the double-whammy is that this comes at a time when more and more mainstream Hollywood filmmakers are showing interest in actually shooting in the 15/70 IMAX format, which would remove the blowup-vs-native issue that others are talking about.
posted by Potsy at 12:09 PM on May 13, 2009


Google Map so you can tell whether a cinema has proper old huge IMAX, or new rubbish IMAX Digital.
posted by kersplunk at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


IMAX screens are for IMAX films. IMAX is for macro footage of tiny bugs in the dirt projected so large that they give you actual, real-life IMAX-sized nightmares. IMAX is for a pull-back into space so menacing that, when you feel yourself helplessly drifting away from your spacecraft you actually feel your throat tighten. IMAX is for standing on stage with Sting, peering over his shoulder into the vast stadium crowd, wanting to count the heads as they are momentarily obscured by a Fender Tele bass headstock swinging into the shot. IMAX is for Sheryl Crow, alone in a room with a guitar, her management having negotiated the shot to be just a little out of focus, because God forbid you'd see a couple wrinkles, a couple pores.

Watching regular films on IMAX screens is for wusses.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:37 PM on May 13, 2009


Potsy: point taken about the superior resolution of film to 2k digital projectors (but putting aside the question of whether the IMAX format is eminently suitable for long-form narrative storytelling, which is a different issue). But I do think that even in its "cheapened" form, the digital IMAX imprimatur offers a kind of security, which is why moviegoers may not mind it so much. The superior resolution of film is of no benefit if the film is shown out of focus, or a film with a 2.35:1 ratio is shown on a 1.85:1 screen so that the left and right edges of the images are projected on the curtains, or the sound cuts out in the center channel, so that there's music but no dialogue (all things that I've seen happen in multiplex theaters recently). With these IMAX screens you're at least assured (I take it) that these things won't happen.

Now, that's more a comment on the current decrepit state of movie screens than on the positive qualities of digital IMAX. I have my favorite theaters when I'm willing to take a trip, where the reputation of the theater itself is enough to make me feel comfortable with seeing a film there (the Paris and the Ziegfeld in NYC are two examples). Seeing Lawrence of Arabia in a pristine 70mm print at the Paris is an experience I still think about. But in a pinch, if it's just a summer movie I'm going to watch once, then IMAX Digital will do, 2K or no.

So basically, it's an interrelated set of problems. One is that IMAX is willing to trade on its brand name to confuse susceptible moviegoers who expect to walk into a cavernous dome when they buy their ticket, but in addition, the average moviegoing experience has declined so much in quality that a digital IMAX screen, even with its flaws and misrepresentation, can command a $5 premium. The technical benefits of the 15/70 IMAX format might perhaps be a benefit if they become more widely used (and indeed, there ought to be a clear distinction made between "real" and digital IMAX screens). But in the meantime, and I think this is more important, we also need more theaters like the Paris.
posted by Prospero at 5:50 PM on May 14, 2009


I don't know that there is any assurance that the IMAX systems in question will be any better maintained than non-IMAX systems. They are at this point all fresh installations (less than a year old) so everything is set up correctly -- for now. In a year or two who knows? I believe IMAX used to train its projectionists separately and do its own maintenance. In the past they didn't even sell their 15/70 systems; they were just rented to venues and IMAX sent their own techs to each site and kept everything working up to their standards. It helped them hold a very high standard of quality and is how they built their reputation. They seem to have decided now that they can cash in on that reputation and slap their logo on just about anything and still draw in the crowds. It may work for a while, but I would be very surprised if they are still going to be maintaining these new installations to anywhere near their old standards.

I actually agree that IMAX-style 15/70 is not the best choice narrative feature films, but it's all we've got left on the large format front. Traditional 5/70 is dead except for museum-like venues such as the ones you mentioned, (or for those on the west coast, the Egyptian or the Castro). According to that ASC article I linked to upthread, The Dark Knight had 80 15-perf 70mm prints made. That's probably far more mainstream venues than any 5/70 release could reasonably reach today. The capacity just isn't there anymore. Yet back in 1984, the second Indiana Jones movie released with 240 5-perf 70mm blowup prints. The quality of the moviegoing experience has been degraded since that highpoint on every front, from production to distribution to exhibition. Agreed 100% that it's a big problem, but unless IMAX goes back to their old ways of guaranteeing a high level of quality at every one of their installations, they will just be contributing to the problem rather than helping it.
posted by Potsy at 2:02 AM on May 17, 2009


What's worse is that many of the largest screens are actually different aspect ratios and the movies are RE-CUT to a the smaller aspect ratio like they did for VHS. Yup. Most of the time you're missing actual widescren and intended images because you "wanted it a bigger screen." sometimes they've even resorted to vhs-like pan and scan.

I was a bit worried about this because I had already bought tickets to see Star Trek in IMAX, but it turned out to be totally wrong in that case—the movie was letterboxed. And it was still freaking huge.
posted by grouse at 8:00 AM on May 22, 2009


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