With a presentation to shareholders on Tuesday, executives from Toronto based Imax addressed the crapstorm over screen size recently stirred up by Aziz Ansari. Their justification? They’ve been doing it for 6 years, profits are up and until now nobody was complaining. According to Carl DiOrio in The Hollywood Reporter:

Imax officials dealt with the matter by labeling it an old issue that hadn’t kicked up a fuss until now. The average Imax screen size has been just slightly bigger than conventional screens for about six years, ever since the company began offering less expensive Imax-format systems for easier implementation in multiplexes, they noted…

…The digital systems now being rolled out…are of the same dimensions as the second generation of Imax’s analog systems, officials said.

The company’s multiplex agreements allow the removal of the lower portion of seating in stadium-seat venues, creating the perception of greater screen size and viewing immersion, they added, and Imax’s remastering of commercial films tagged for its distribution boost image resolution and brightness.”

So, everyone is making money and patrons haven’t complained so there’s no problem? More likely I think people just don’t know what they’re getting…or not getting as the case may be…until it’s too late. It’s only been in the last year or so (especially since The Dark Knight which had scenes expressly filmed for Imax) that this was a mainstream issue in the first place.

I saw Shine a Light in one of these multiplex theaters that had aggressive stadium seating and the first few rows of seats had been removed so the seating area could be pushed closer to the screen. The screen itself wasn’t as big as the 76-foot high museum behemoths people ordinarily associate with Imax, but the sound and resolution were great and the proximity to the screen approximated the immersive experience that Imax is known for. Plus the concert was shot with Imax in mind using HD digital cameras. An important point since not all films are shot in the higher resolutions (or larger 70mm film format) required for decent presentation on large screens.

Watchmen was a whole different story. The stadium slope was modest so if the first few rows and been removed and the screen was closer to the seating area, it was indistinguishable anywhere further back than the very front of the auditorium. Ostensibly the sound system was better and the image resolution and brightness were boosted, but is that really an excuse to increase the ticket price? Absolutely not.

Like nutrition information on pre-packaged food, Imax and theater chains should at least be clearly informing customers exactly what they’re getting before they purchase a ticket and enter the auditorium. If the ‘Imax Experience’ really is worth an extra five bucks in all its incarnations, then the company shouldn’t be afraid to be upfront about exactly what they’re delivering.

The fact that no one has complained in six years is not a justification.

9 Responses to “Imax: Proudly robbing you since 2003!”

  1. I think it’s awesome that Aziz Ansari started this firestorm.

    I saw Watchmen in “true” IMAX, and honestly my ears felt like they were bleeding. I don’t know whether to blame that on Zack Snyder, the projectionist, or the format, but it’s turned actually me off from the experience for a while. I don’t think the increase in screen size has to be matched with a proportionate increase in volume.

  2. I appreciate being educated on IMAX over this furor because I learned my recent IMAX experiences weren’t true IMAX. I still enjoyed the movies I saw, but I didn’t realize I was being duped. I forgot to bring my tape measure I suppose.


    Seriously though, this reminds me of the early days of DVD when no one seemed to know what the hell anamorphic widescreen was versus fake widescreen. At first studios seemed ambivalent to the problem but as consumers became more and more educated about the technology and more and more people upgraded to widescreen HD TVs, the studios responded favorably to the issue.

    Of course, the upside for them was that it meant a double-dip for consumers that had already invested in inferior DVD releases.

    Here, there’s no upside to theaters that have invested in inferior technology. Expect this double-talk to continue for some time.

  3. It’s funny you mention the anamophic DVD business Joel because more and more going to the theater is become as tedious as shopping for an HD TV and surround sound system.

    I’m satisfied with my Shine a Light experience. It may not have been museum quality Imax, but it was several steps above a regular theatrical experience. Watchmen was just the same.

  4. the major difference is that only ealy last year did they roll out the digital projectors.

    the smaller screens have been around, yes, but they were still running 70mm film. that’s worth the additional 5 bucks alone — imax or not. we’l pay $15 to see a 70mm presentation of 2001 at a revival house, why not do the same for, say, watchmen?

    but running 2 digital projectors barely makes up for the gap in quality between digital and 35mm. that, to me, is the key issue.

  5. That’s an important point D, but still, would you rather watch 1080p on a 26 inch television or a 70 inch television?

    I might pay extra to see Watchmen or Dark Knight in 70mm, but I’d prefer it to on a bigger screen to take even fuller advantage of the higher resolution.

  6. I don’t agree. The movie being projected in 70 mm isn’t comparable to a movie SHOT in 70 mm and projected that way, as your example of 2001 implies. Projecting a standard Hollywood release in IMAX requires taking a 35 mm negative, shot anamorphic, and digitally upsampling to 70 mm. Any apparent gain in quality by the larger format film is negated by the fact that the image is being digitally “enhanced” to approximately 4x its original resolution.

    The reason The Dark Knight was a breakthrough is that numerous sequences were shot entirely in IMAX format, rendering the screen image in an IMAX theater noticeably sharper and more visually impressive than a standard 35 mm presentation. It actually gets more technical than that, but I would be talking out my ass if I tried to get into the actual science of the differences.

    In other words, if they’re not showing an IMAX presentation in full IMAX resolution on a true IMAX screen (ie, Digital IMAX), the effort is a total waste of time and yes, you’re being ripped off.

  7. I have terrible eyesight, so enhanced images do nothing for me. ;)

    I’ve never even gone to an IMAX theater. Pathetic, I know.

  8. That was the distinction I was trying to make in the original piece between movies that were actually shot in either HD Digital (like Shine a Light) or 70mm

  9. I think you made it, but I was responding to d’s comment. Easy to get tripped up by the simple semantics of all this techno-babble about IMAX.

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