Friday, August 14, 2015

The Truth About the IMAX "Experience"

Hello, everyone, and thank you for checking out this most important article regarding what is known as the "IMAX Experience". Knowing if a movie was filmed using IMAX cameras is a great piece of information to have as the format becomes more commonplace in theaters around the country and is paired with a "premium experience" price tag for good measure. This blog post is here to help you decide if it will be worth spending the extra money for IMAX when the option is being offered.

Before we get to the movies themselves, I want to also pass on some important information about IMAX theaters. Movie screenings billed as an "IMAX Experience" at recently converted auditoriums in Regal, AMC, and other theaters nationwide are actually offering a far inferior product than the level of quality you might be expecting.

For the record, there is only one true IMAX theater in the entire state of Washington and that is the Pacific Science Center's Boeing IMAX Theater. Even the Science Center's own Paccar IMAX Theater offers a much smaller screen, but does feature the high end picture and sound quality that is featured in its larger counterpart. Here is some information provided by the Pacific Science Center website.

"The Boeing IMAX Theater is the Ultimate IMAX Experience on Seattle's biggest screen! Immerse yourself in a cinematic experience like no other as spectacular films come to life on a screen six stories high (60 feet) and 80 feet wide, with 12,000 watts of stereo sound. Our 3D films take advantage of our state-of-the-art IMAX 3D® technology, putting you right in the action. The 405-seat theater features plush, comfortable seating, a full-service concession stand, and an enthusiastic staff trained to make your IMAX experience great."

"The PACCAR IMAX Theater boasts a screen measuring 35 feet in height and 60 feet across. In operation since 1979 and completely renovated in 2011, the theater seats 350 people. See for yourself the difference in clarity, color, and movement brought to you by IMAX."

Now, in comparison, lets take a look at the dimensions of the Regal Thornton Place Stadium 14 & IMAX pulled from a talk thread by local movie critic Moira McDonald on the Seattle Times website.

"I heard back from a Regal publicist regarding the size of the Thornton Creek IMAX screen: It is 28 feet 6 inches high and 48 feet wide."

These dimensions are about half the size of the Boeing IMAX Theater and are very comparable to the IMAX screens at both the AMC Southcenter 16 and Cinemark at Lincoln Square theaters. Premium experience?

Want another comparison? Here's an article from The Herald newspaper's website which talks specifically about the The AMC Loews theater at Alderwood Mall's IMAX theater. below is a quote from the article that gives the screen dimensions.

"AMC's screen at Alderwood is comparatively much smaller at 35 feet high and 63 feet wide, about 25 percent larger than a typical multiplex screen. It is a multiplex-style Imax, created by removing the existing screen and the first few rows of seats and adding a new, slightly curved Imax screen closer to the audience."

Now lets take a look at this article by Gizmodo about the image and sound quality offered at various "IMAX" theaters. Make sure to read through to the blog post by Aziz Ansari that is referenced by Gizmodo  which has some fun with the "fake IMAX" issue at hand.

Roger Ebert  himself also chimed in on the "IMAX" phenomenon:
"It is ironic that IMAX, a company founded to provide a top-quality alternative to standard projection, has lowered its traditional standards and the value of its famous name. A true IMAX film is in 70mm, and is seen on a vast 72' x 53' screen, with all stadium seating. Now theaters advertised as IMAX are occupying modified multiplexes, where their standard screen has been only somewhat enlarged and the projection is digital. To charge extra for this IMAX experience is false advertising. A true IMAX theater is still a great place to see films such as "The Dark Knight." If the IMAX theater you're considering has opened somewhat recently, check it out carefully."

So, now you know more than you ever wanted to know about IMAX theaters, but you will also not be spending your hard earned money on an inferior product. If you are going to see an IMAX movie, you will be going to one of the two screens at the Pacific Science Center which are also actually less expensive than their mall counterparts.

Now it is time to discuss the movies themselves and which ones are actually considered to be "IMAX" movies. One misconception a lot of people have is that IMAX and 3D go hand in hand which is simply not true. Yes, a lot of IMAX movies are also 3D, but they are two separate technologies. You absolutely can have one without the other. Case in point, Christopher Nolan has no interest in 3D technology, yet has been using IMAX cameras to film portions of his amazing Batman movies.

Now, when a movie is not filmed using IMAX cameras, it has to be formatted and converted digitally, but even then, the top and bottom portions of an IMAX screen can go unused which is like when you would watch a wide screen VHS tape or DVD on an older non-HDTV home television. See the example below and think again about that so-called premium experience I was talking about earlier.

Here's another example of the difference between a digitally converted IMAX image which you will see at mall based IMAX theaters and an actual 70mm print or laser projected image at a true 8-story IMAX theater. These images are not cropped in any way, they represent the actual difference in what you will see in each type of theater. And yes, the image is from Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens!

 Digitally Converted

70mm Print or Laser Projected

There has yet to be a feature narrative film that has been entirely shot with IMAX cameras and not one that is currently being developed or in production has any plans to do so, so don't believe all the marketing and advertising that is out there these days.

Update: Marvel Studios, along with directors Joe and Anthony Russo, have announced that Avengers: Infinity War Parts I and II will be filmed exclusively and 100% with IMAX 3D cameras. This will be an unprecedented undertaking and, thanks to advances in technology, should give audiences the most immersive experience ever put on screen.

Recent movies like The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the MoonMission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and Star Trek Into Darkness have actually been partially filmed using IMAX cameras which gives viewers a chance to enjoy big action sequences in the larger format while other scenes revert back to the normal widescreen.

There are, however, many wonderful documentaries that have been filmed entirely with IMAX cameras and these releases are always being presented on true IMAX screens like at Seattle's Pacific Science Center. These are beautifully filmed pieces of work that are intended to educate and entertain in the grandest of fashions and show audiences some great stories about nature, history, and technology. Definitely check them out if you have a chance.



  1. For me,my preference will always be The Cinerama. For reasons I've stated before. If it's a TRUE IMAX film,I'll go to the IMAX. If some scenes are filmed with an IMAX camera,still the Cimerama. if a significant portion of the film is filmed with IMAX cameras. Then the IMAX will win out.

    PS: Thrill wrote this.

  2. Just found your site... love it and the info you provide... but I have to state one significant thing you are incorrect about your "for the record..."

    You are neglecting the Riverfront Park IMAX theatre (not to be confused with the nearby craptastic AMC "imax" at Riverpark Square) in Spokane is indeed also a LEGIT IMAX theatre. Unfortunately it does not support 3D Imax films, but the screen size and sound quality most definitely fall under the category of "True IMAX Theatre" and has for over 35 years.

  3. Hi Dana, thank you so much for the info! You're absolutely right about the Riverfront Park IMAX! I looked up their website and found some great info for anyone that is interested. The most notable features are the use of 70mm film and not digital files along with a screen size that comes closer to rivaling the Science Center IMAX screen than anything else around.

    Thanks again for the info!

  4. I saw "Mysteries of Ancient China" in the Paccar Imax today. It is the first time I've been in that theater since the move from film to digital. I don't know how much of it was limitations in the source movie vs the projection, but...
    WOW was it disappointing. Very obvious pixels on bright images, lots of digital artifacts (jaggies, tearing, stuttering pans, etc). The brightness, dynamic range, contrast, and black levels were far inferior. I can't see going there specifically to see any big screen movie.


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