I have to start by saying that I’ve seen a number of films shown in the IMAX format, but have never seen a commercial feature film in this format. Since the screen is so much bigger than a traditional movie screen, I find it a bit fatiguing to watch IMAX movies, so the idea of watching one for two hours or more is a bit daunting.
Nonetheless, I am a definite fan of the format and while we’re all waiting for the new high-def 4K digital projection systems to arrive, IMAX is the biggest negative, highest resolution option you have to see a movie today. Or is it?
In the last few months IMAX Corporation
has begun foisting a smaller-screen IMAX format on us with the popular name of “Realimax”. But it’s not real at all.
Or is it?
According to the company, IMAX is characterized by:
“IMAX’s revolutionary projection technology, consisting of film and digital projection systems, delivers crystal-clear images with a level of quality that is far above ordinary projection standards, in both IMAX and IMAX 3D.”
What you don’t see mentioned there is the screen size. The company talks about the screen geometry and the improved audio system in an IMAX theater, but does size matter?
First off, here’s how screen sizes compare for the three standard film projection resolutions:
As you can see, the IMAX screen is quite considerably bigger.
Or, perhaps not. Here’s another info graphic that nicely shows the difference between a full-on IMAX theater screen and a “realimax” retrofit of an existing multiplex theater to support the IMAX projection technology:
Definitely not the same.
The problem here is that the entire premise of IMAX is that it’s an “immersive experience” that offers up considerably more viewing space than we can even process:
In this figure the blue represents the viewer’s field of view, far less than the IMAX screen. This of course means that not only is your conscious viewing field the movie, but your peripheral vision is additionally engaged by the projection offering a very different experience than, by way of a dramatic counterexample, a TV screen and all the distractions behind and around it.
One recent film that’s grossed quite well in its “IMAX” release version is Star Trek. But the problem is that Star Trek wasn’t actually shot with the IMAX camera gear. IMAX, according to an IMAX engineer, is a 65mm film with an aspect ratio 1:1.37, 4x the size of VistaVision. Star Trek, however, was shot in Cinemascope, which uses an anamorphic format that squeezes the image onto the film then undistorts it on projection back to its original 1:2.34 aspect ratio.
So how can Paramount
and IMAX claim that they have IMAX versions of Star Trek
? For that matter, how can IMAX be polluting its brand by calling non-IMAX full size theaters “IMAX” theaters? The answer? Profits.
First off, he says that only 2% of the people that test-viewed films in the new smaller-screen IMAX format complained it wasn’t a comparable experience to the larger-screen IMAX format. I suggest to you, Mr. Gelfond, that you find a new market research firm pronto!
In a great example of completely denying that there’s a real problem, the company says that “they’re not yet sure what portion of their customers are actually unhappy [and are] planning a further customer survey and will decide what to do after they see the results.”
In other words, shut up and leave us alone.
My suggestion to IMAX is to recognize that the reason that you are successful is that you’ve always defined the IMAX Experience as being a combination of projection, audio and screen that together offer up an extraordinarily immersive, amazing experience. Stick with that and instead of the smaller-screen IMAX theaters, offer up a “Powered by IMAX Technology” and a catchy slogan like “The Real Movie Experience, Powered by Digital IMAX” or similar.
Roger Ebert is thinking similarly when he suggests
“Call it IMAX Lite, IMAX Junior, MiniMAX or IMAX 2.0″ as long as you don’t just call it IMAX and confuse the customer.
Otherwise we’ll learn to do what fans are already doing: calling up their local cineplex to ask if they have a “real” IMAX screen and theater or just have the enhanced projection system.
And that can’t be good for the brand.