Sunday, March 12, 2017

First World Problems : Finding a Good Movie Theater Screen

Here is a problem : You live in an area where there are a almost a dozen movie theaters showing first run films within a 25-mile radius of your house but you are almost an hour away away from a major city.  You want to see a large budget, action and spectacle heavy film.  This means you want to see it on a big screen with a powerful sound system.  The same screen may not be necessary for an intimate drama or a raunchy comedy, but when it comes to action, bigger is usually better.

The biggest films, especially action/adventure films, tend to be shown on more than one screen, at least on opening weekend.  Today, many of the big films are converted to 3-D, even though most were not shot with 3-D in mind.  In the theaters around me, there will be separate screens devoted to the 2-D version and the 3-D version.  A couple of theaters near me have a giant screen.  Showcase Cinemas and AMC refers to their giant screen as IMAX (licensing the trademark) and Regal Cinemas calls their screen RPX.  These will always show the 3-D version of the film.  In the upcoming years, there may be a battle between the two chains and their competing 4D technologies, (Showcase uses MX4D, Regal uses 4DX) but that is the subject of another blog entry.

I saw Kong : Skull Island on the local-ish Showcase Cinema's IMAX screen.  Some commentators have derisively called these screens "LIEMAX" because they are smaller than a true IMAX screen.  While there are dedicated IMAX theaters in my state with the enormous screen, they are much further away than the local IMAX.

The local IMAX gives a very good presentation compared to non-IMAX sized-screens.  I saw Star Wars Rogue One in the 2-D version at the Regal Cinemas theater and was very disappointed with the size of the screen.  Not only was it small, it was noticeably offset from the center of the room.  I have a suspicion that these shoebox theaters may only be using 2K projectors, the industry standard is to use 4K projectors.  The movie deserved better.

The problem is these cinema chains only show the 3-D version of the films.  If you want to see a 2-D version of the film, you are often left with small screens and small theaters that just don't do the action on-screen justice in this day and age.  While the 3-D conversion of Kong was without major flaws, the glasses I had to wear were uncomfortable and tended to fog up around the bridge of the nose.   You simply cannot take off the glasses and expect to enjoy what is on the screen, it will appear blurry thanks to the dual projection of the 3-D images.

I find that 3-D does not particularly add much to a film that was not shot with 3-D in mind.  On the other hand, when the film was shot with 3-D in mind and projected on a huge screen, as was the case with Gravity, the experience is incredible.  Moreover, a 3-D conversion does not reflect the director's intent unless the director supervised the process. There are also 4D conversions of films that add moving seats and other tactile sensory perceptions, but that kind of gimmickry only reflects the studio's intent, not the director's.

While I am on the subject, Showcase Cinemas has a dizzying array of theater options.  Depending on the theater, you could have choices of a 2-D screen, a 3-D screen, a Lux Level option for each ( with food service), an IMAX 3-D screen, an MX4D screen (motion seats and sensory effects) or an XPLUS screen (featuring Dolby Atmos sound).  There are also a few SuperLux theaters that seem more focused on comfort and food than a pure or traditional moviegoing experience.  Offering a comprehensive experience with a restaurant, bar, comfy seating and in-movie service does seem to be the trend in upscale movie theaters.


Servo said...

I find IMAX to be the worst way to watch a movie in all cases. I think their auditoriums to be terrible, they are great at marketing and nothing more. The two biggest issues are 1) lack of adjustable masking, and 2) unimpressive 5.0 sound that doesn't even have a proper surround speaker array. The masking is big one, and annoyingly something AMC and Regal have copied in order to save money. It wasn't used back in the day just because film had fuzzier edges, it increases the perceived contrast of the image and prevents stray light from reflecting on the screen. Lack of masking is unprofessional and makes the theatre look like nothing more than a large tv. IMAX picture quality varies by location - some I've been to have a lot of curve to the screen with significant distortion of the image, others are better. Some locations use silver screens for 3D which look terribly due to hot spotting in 3D or 2D mode. Sound wise, they need baffle walls for the scree speakers; IMAX theaters are loud, yes, but the sound isn't very good. Using only two surround speakers is a huge weakness vs. a complete array of surround speakers, especially since this leaves IMAX sounding exactly like my home theater which has the same arrangement when far better and amazing sounding technologies like Dolby Atmos are available in non-IMAX theaters. Having been to a number of IMAX locations, I can safely say I will never go back for any movie. (Indeed, I will not visit any theater with no masking - Regal RPX and AMC Prime/Dolby Cinema fall in this category even though they have better sound).

Great Hierophant said...

I think you and this blogger share the same sentiments when it comes to the abandonment of masking : I share them myself, but that blogger pretty much dropped the mic when it comes to explaining, both in words and images, why the abandonment of masking is so wretched.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Servo. While the Showcase IMAX screens near me are big, they aren't clear. I think DMR "remastering" and adapting the image for non-standard screen aspect ratios does more harm than good. Also, IMAX auditoriums are unpleasantly LOUD and lack much in the way of pinpoint directionality. Finally, they're more expensive than regular auditoriums; I try to avoid IMAX altogether.