Enjoy 'Iron Man 2' on May 7 by Avoiding "Fake IMAX"

Posted Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 10:10 AM PDT by

by Michael S. Palmer

High-Def Digest was lucky enough to catch a press screening of the new Paramount/Marvel release, 'Iron Man 2' last week, and boy was it…well, truthfully press embargoes don't allow for a review just yet, but because I know you're all going to see this one, think of this is as a friendly reminder, a public service message if you will (and so help me, you will!), on how to get the best out of your 'Iron Man 2' experience. Because, as our new blog The Bonus View attests, this isn't a Blu-ray website, it's a hub for all high-definition enthusiasts.

And friends, ain't nothin' you have access to, save for looking out your own two eyes, that's more high-definition than IMAX, but do not -- let me repeat -- DO NOT see 'Iron Man 2' (or any film for that matter) in a fake IMAX theatre. To be blunt: it looks horrible, and you're wasting your hard-earned cash for a non-upgrade.

What you want, what you NEED, is to either find a real IMAX, or the largest, high-quality DLP or 35mm screen in your area.

Fake-IMAX hating isn't exactly breaking news. Roger Ebert and comedian Aziz Ansari have been complaining about this since last year. Even our own trusted HD Advisor, Josh Zyber, has weighed in on the topic. But for those unaware, here's what's going on:

For nearly a decade, IMAX big-screen-format theaters have been up-converting Hollywood blockbusters to fit their 70mm film stock (referred to as IMAX 15/70) for display on their monstrous screens, which are typically 76 feet x 97 feet in dimension. While Josh and I may disagree on the quality of said up-conversion, IMAX is my preferred opening weekend venue -- I've been convinced you really do see more than in a traditional 35mm (or digital projection) venue ever since I noted, among other details, perceivable peach fuzz on the teenage cast members in 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban'. That, and it sometimes makes me feel like I'm flying.

More recently, IMAX decided to expand their brand. Teaming with cinema chains including AMC and Regal, they retrofitted existing non-IMAX theatres. Ladies and gentlemen, the birth of "fake IMAX." Apparently these retrofits were almost called "Digital IMAX" or "IMAX Digital", but executives were worried the "Digital" moniker would hurt "older" (real) IMAX15/70 screens. And who knows, marketing people are occasionally right about these things. But here's the truth: the digital IMAX screens are only 28 feet x 58 feet. Sure, that's still a nice-sized screen, but with a minimum $5-per-ticket surcharge for the IMAX brand, you're not getting the same spectacle, quality, or size. What's worse, the movies look terrible. Colors are harsh and washed out, and resolution is destroyed thanks to all the extra tinkering (films are first up-converted to 15/70 and then down-converted to 2K) and what James Hyder calls the "screen door" effect:

"Every IMAX digital theater I’ve been in has also had a noticeable “screen door effect,” that is, a visible dark grid pattern separating the pixels. It is particularly noticeable in lighter image areas, and is less visible the farther you are from the screen. But even with my 53-year-old eyes, I was able to see it from the front half of most of the five theaters I’ve been in. If you move back to eliminate the pattern, your field of view becomes narrower, and hence no different than an ordinary movie theater."

The screen door effect is real, and highly distracting from the opening moments of "Iron Man 2'. Even the IMAX brand "Think Big" trailer is an embarrassment when directly compared to its IMAX15/70 older brother (which I witnessed two days later in finally getting a chance to check out the very awesome 'How to Train Your Dragon IMAX 3D').

Personally, I can't wait to go see 'Iron Man 2' again opening weekend at my local IMAX 15/70, if for no other reason than I won't have to sit there wishing it didn't look terrible. Seriously, if you're an High-Def Digest regular, you clearly care about quality. That's why you're supporting Blu-ray at home. It's worth your money, because quality directly translates (well, if you want to believe Martin Scorsese, but what does he know?) into an immersive, cinema experience.

Now that we know the problems of fake IMAX, here's how to avoid it:

--You're gonna have to do some homework. Not sure if your local IMAX is real or fake, call up your local cinema and ask about the screen dimensions, and whether or not it uses "two digital projectors." Remember, you want 70mm film, and a screen to be around 76 feet x 97 feet.

--You can check out this guy's map for a few hints. But be warned, he gave up last year, so it might be incomplete. For those in Los Angeles proper, always watch IMAX movies at The Bridge or Universal's City Walk. Avoid AMC Century City (the IMAX part of it) at all costs. Fans of the forum, post away for your local theater gems (IMAX or otherwise).

--Generally, the major sinners of fake IMAX are AMC and Regal, but when in doubt, do your homework (as described above).

--No IMAX in your area? I'm sorry, but don't worry. The trick is to get the biggest screen at the nicest (most well maintained) theatre to which you have access. Many blockbusters open on multiple screens, and it's not too hard to ask which showtimes correlate with the largest available theater (this might sound like a lot of work, but keep in mind that James Cameron made multiple prints in various aspect ratios of 'Avatar' to ensure that each cinema had the largest presentation available). And, thanks to 3D, tons of cinemas have gone digital. Digital projection in a non-IMAX cinema looks fantastic, and is a direct copy of the original movie file, as prepared by the filmmakers. Meaning, no projectionist can scratch it. And of course, despite being a century-old technology, film is still amazing.

One last thing, friends. I here by evangelize all of you to get the word out. Facebook. Twitter. Blog. Email. Snail mail. Share. Tell friends. Parents. Kids. Cousins. Coworkers. Just don't be snobs. This is simply about how everyone can get the biggest bang for his or her buck. The fiercest enemy in our technological universe is "good enough." DVD looks 'good enough.' My SD cable looks 'good enough'. You and I know it's not true, but guess what, maybe for some people, it is. However, I draw a line when 'good enough' (meaning, regular 35mm cinemas) looks vastly superior to '50% more expensive for no reason.' Boys (and gals), we've got a job to do... Huntin' Nazis! Oh, I mean, boycotting fake IMAX.

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