A lie as wide as a bad Canadian tie – Got the Jimmy Legs

A lie as wide as a bad Canadian tie

For the second time this year, I actually went to the movies instead of just waiting around for them to become available on Netflix. The reasons for this bold move are twofold: we decided that Inception looked good enough to risk annoyance and it's been so damn hot the thought of freezing in a dark theater was enough to get me to push through the throngs of idiots in Times Square to get to it.

We planned this all week, with a ETA for Sunday afternoon. Of course right at the moment we headed out it started raining and immediately became quite pleasant out. Oh well. We went to Times Square because we figured we would enjoy ourselves more if we got the IMAX EXPERIENCETM. A few years ago, a visiting relative and a lack of creativity led us to see I Am Legend at the Lincoln Square Imax and the hugeness of the screen managed to make that lame movie engaging (I spent the whole movie looking at the locations).

However, as I may have mentioned while out at the bar on numerous occasions, my last experience at the theater was seeing Avatar in Imax. But it wasn't the same Imax as before. My experience with Inception had the same issue: this wasn't an IMAX EXPERIENCETM despite what my ticket said. The screens in question in both instances were clearly way smaller than the Lincoln Square screen. In fact, you could argue that these screens were no bigger than a regular multiplex cinema. I knew this was a possibility since the Avatar debacle, but we figured it was worth the risk. Plus, with less than 24 hours to go before the showing, there were few online ticketing options. For your reference, movitetickets.com seems to have tickets available later than other sites like moviefone.com and fandango.com.

The movie was a lot of fun, definitely the kind of thing that would get me out to the theaters more often. The overall film-going experience wasn't too bad either, nothing I wasn't expecting anyway. I kind of wish they just had a rack of vending machines for people who just want Sour Patch Kids and not have to stand in line with the weirdos who appear to be buying 5-course meals. Anyway, even though the prices were outrageous, we go to the movies so seldom we took the hit without complaint (I know this may set a dangerous precedent between ticket prices and film-seeing frequency, but I doubt I'm much of a target audience these days).

So even though I knew we probably wouldn't be getting the real IMAX EXPERIENCETM we paid for, I was still irked enough about its loss to research it more. Look at this comparison chart, displaying both Lincoln Square and AMC Empire 25's (this is where we went) screens:

Imax comparison

Just one of the minor aspects of the IMAX EXPERIENCE

So the 'real' Imax screen is nearly 4x bigger than the screen we had. So it's a straight-up ripoff right? Yes and no; turns out there's more to Imax than sheer screen size. B'wha?? According to industry spokespeople, Imax also refers to the sound system and seat positioning. What? How in the hell does a company put a trademark on where they put the seats? The sound system, okay: I suppose yoru could describe it as 'immersive,' maybe more so than it might be at some podunk theater downtown. You might also describe it as 'friggin' loud,' and 'seat-vibratingly distored' at times. But maybe that was part of the IMAX EXPERIENCETM.

Now, for the thing about seat positioning. When Imax goes into an existing theater to retrofit it for the IMAX EXPERIENCETM , they make a number of changes to the way the seats are positioned, applying a variety of technical methodologies to conjure up the very soul of the aforementioned IMAX EXPERIENCETM .

I will try to coalesce this complicated process: they stick the screen a lot closer to the seats so stuff looks bigger.

Wow. They moved the screen closer to the seats, so totally worth the extra $5. You can look at the graphic to see what they've done, but that's pretty much what it amounts to: sit closer and the magic pictures look bigger. Ironically, when we arrived at the theater, it seemed that most people were crowding around the back section of seats, thus destroying the sit-close-look-big aspect of the IMAX EXPERIENCETM . I'm not really sure why they paid extra for this. Maybe they just came for the immersive sound system?

The real revelation in all this for me was finding out that it's nearly impossible to find out any standards in cinema screen size. Since you can make a projected image fit any screen, theaters have been able to use whatever fits their room. You can imagine how in space-deprived New York City this means lots of small screens. So maybe the IMAX EXPERIENCETM at least guarantees your screen won't be bedsheet-on-a-wall-small, but I'm past thinking of it as a real Imax thing. I'll just have to get my tickets further in advance next time so I can go to Lincoln Square.* Or maybe I'll just wait for Netflix. That streaming-video thing is super handy.

*I should note that as it turned out we didn't even need advance tickets, everybody else was just buying them on the spot.


  1. Tim
    Posted July 31, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Nice article overall. IMAX would love to put an eight story screen in every multiplex, but it just isn't economically viable. They are doing the best that can be done profitably. Kudos for researching the issue objectively.

    "I will try to coalesce this complicated process: they stick the screen a lot closer to the seats so stuff looks bigger."

    I think you over coalesced here. They've also improved viewing angles and image quality (through an expensive digital remastering process and a brighter dual-projector setup). Without these things, it would just be the same nausea-inducing experience you can get by sitting on the front row of a traditional theater.

    "Ironically, when we arrived at the theater, it seemed that most people were crowding around the back section of seats, thus destroying the sit-close-look-big aspect of the IMAX EXPERIENCE"

    Yes, people have been programmed to do this due to the viewing angle and image quality issues in traditional theaters. But when they do this in IMAX, they are still getting a bigger, better picture than if they had done the same thing in the traditional theater.

  2. Posted July 31, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    wow are we being visited by an Imax rep? i'm honored. i will admit, we ended up sitting in the 4th row, normally an option of last resort, and it was totally fine. the only complaint i could give is we were so close we could see pixelization from the digital projector. but sometimes in blogland, given a choice between absolutely fair appraisal and making a joke, i gotta go for the funny. thanks for commenting!

  3. Tim
    Posted July 31, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    No, not a rep. Just a lowly IMAX patron and investor 🙂