Are Smaller IMAX Screens Worth the Price?

The lure of watching Star Trek in IMAX has moviegoers shelling out as much as seven extra bucks at the theater with the expectation of getting more screen space.

But most of the company's new digital screens, specifically those built in the past six years, are significantly less than half the screen size of what many consider the traditional 60 foot by 80 foot IMAX (Stock Quote: IMAX). The size of these smaller screens varies, but one set of dimensions is 25 feet by 58 feet (see the graph, below). These surprisingly inconsistent dimensional requirements for IMAX screens (despite a ticket premium of as much as 40%) are making some moviegoers madder than a Klingon.

Recently actor and comedian Aziz Ansari unleashed a profanity-ridden yet honest rant on his personal blog after feeling duped into paying an extra $5 for what he deemed a not-large-enough IMAX experience. Most new IMAX digital screens, which are not differentiated by name from their behemoth science center-sized forebears, are only slightly larger in size than traditional movie theater screens.

It may not be an out and out scam, but the lack of specifics in terms of what size screen qualifies as "IMAX" is confusing consumers.

Industry Pro: IMAX "Brand Dilution" Exists
James Hyder, editor and publisher of LF Examiner, the self-proclaimed "independent journal of the large format motion picture industry," is surprised IMAX has gotten away for so long with what he calls “brand dilution."

“The size of the screen is much smaller than the older IMAX, and the digital quality is only slightly better than conventional digital," says Hyder. "Most of the people who go to the new digital theaters must not have been to a real IMAX theater ever.” According to IMAX, 72 of its 138 screens are the smaller size, or just more than half.

IMAX Responds: More than Size Matters
MainStreet spoke to Richard Gelfond, CEO of IMAX, who defended IMAX against Ansari's rant and other blogs covering the issue.



Gelfond says more modest IMAX screens in local multiplexes have been around for at least six years. Despite Ansari’s outrage, Gelfond says the positive feedback from consumer testing and ticket sales at these IMAX theaters is significant.


“IMAX did 15% of Star Trek’s total domestic box office in the whole country on only 138 screens," which is less than 2% of all movie theatres, says Gelfond. "This is compared to the earlier releases of Watchmen, where we did 12% of the box office and Monsters and Aliens, where we did around 10%. Clearly a lot of people are going back to IMAX theaters.”

Gelfond also points out that not everyone shares Ansari’s views. “The overwhelming majority of comments on that guy’s blog this morning, more than 90% of them, are vehemently disagreeing with him. And consumers are confirming this with their continued purchases of tickets.”

Movie Lovers: What You Need to Know
For those confused by the differences between IMAX and traditional screens, Gelfond says the pricier IMAX experience is more than just screen size.

The version of the film projected on IMAX is different from that shown in traditional movie theaters, he says. The resolution is increased using a process called Digital Remastering, the sound quality is enhanced, and several front rows of seating are removed to improve the viewer’s experience (read: prevent neck cramps).

Budget-minded Star Trek fans should familiarize themselves with the details of the new projection system on IMAX’s web site and should check for the details at your local IMAX theater before purchasing tickets. Don't boldly go where you might be surprised by the lack of screen space.

 

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