Film and TV

The Lie of IMAX Digital: The Dark Knight Rises Problem

UPDATE 7/16: Turns out, The Dark Knight Rises will be showing in 15/70 format at the Cinemark 17. One caveat: the theater is a digital IMAX retrofit. Which means it's big and badass, but the Omni theater in Fort Worth is a solid bet for seeing DKR in the optimum projection. See below for more details, and our users guide to watching Dark Knight in Dallas right here.

There are four IMAX theaters in Dallas, if you include the Frisco AMC Stonebriar 24: the AMC Northpark 15, Cinemark 17, and the Museum of Nature and Science.

Quick background: IMAX film, which debuted in 1970, is 70 mm wide (about the size of a post card), and each frame has 15 perforations. With a true IMAX projector, the film is run through horizontally -- so audiences see the width of film in the height of the frame.

Of the four IMAX theaters, only one in Dallas, the Museum of Nature and Sciences, projects in the native 70 mm format. The other IMAX theaters in Dallas are using digital projectors, in a format often lovingly referred to as lieMAX. So, what's the difference between the 70mm and digital?

IMAX Digital typically uses two, side-by-side 2K Christie projectors. As Peter Sciretta, of Slash Film reported, the two digital projections are layered over each other, giving the film a super size. Here's our problem:

Say, for example, you're checking out The Dark Knight Rises (squee!), which will boast the most IMAX footage ever shot for a Hollywood movie, on a dual-digital IMAX projector (like AMC Northpark). You'll see the film on a screen about 25x58 feet. Cool, right?

Except that true IMAX, as Slash Film reported, broadcasts on a screen that's 76x97 feet. The difference is breathtaking.

Edwin Perez, the projectionist at Cinemark 17 (which currently uses the dual-digital projectors) on Webb Chapel, explained that IMAX digital results in "crisper sound and clearer image." More "realistic." Yet, if you're viewing a film shot with true IMAX cameras, like The Dark Knight Rises or Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, in with the dual-digital projectors, you're missing one helluva kinetic, hair-raising experience.

Dave Codeglia, who's been working in Los Angeles as a filmmaker for ten years at Ghostlight, says, "You should get what you pay for, whether you can tell the difference or not. I'm working for a film that's partially shot on IMAX, and it's a difficult format to work with. The cameras are bigger, noisier, heavier, and you have to reload after every 3 minutes of shooting. Still, the footage is absolutely stunning! It's a shame to think that the audience will only get half the experience that the filmmakers intended and went through all that extra effort to deliver."

So, there's the fiscal issue. Think of it this way: watching The Avengers, which was artificially blown up to be IMAX after production, will run you

$12.00 at AMC Northpark and $15 in 3D ($16.25 for IMAX 3D at Cinemark 17). So, basically, you're laying down IMAX prices for a film that was made a little bigger, a little louder.

There's a big difference between getting bang for your buck, and utilizing a artistic medium. Any movie can be stretched and volume-jacked. True IMAX isn't just big--it's a mural. Viewing a film shot with IMAX cameras in IMAX Digital is like watching a baseball game on the Jumbotron when you're sitting behind the plate.

But, again, we arrive at the problem: There's only a handful of theaters in Texas fitted to screen The Dark Knight Rises in the proper format, and many of them rarely show Hollywood features. Right now, you'd have to trek to San Antonio's Rivercenter theater to see Bane break the Bat -- or any other IMAX films -- the way he was meant to. Sure, there'll be some special screening somewhere, but what's the point of IMAX theaters that don't screen true IMAX? Take away the IMAX name. Call it HAM: Huge Ass Movies. I don't care. Just don't handcuff audiences by making them watch the Jumbotron when there's plenty of room behind the plate.

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Nick Rallo
Contact: Nick Rallo