From IMAX to Giant Screen Fake IMAX at Birmingham’s Thinktank Millenium Point (UPDATE: Cineworld’s new Digital IMAX screen)
UPDATE, November 2012: Cineworld in Birmingham has installed a new Digital IMAX (i.e. Fake IMAX/”Liemax”) screen, in time for the release of the new James Bond film. However, I went to see Skyfall at the Millennium Point Giant Screen Cinema, for two reasons.
- It’s a known quantity. Even though it’s now a Barco “Giant Screen” which is a step backwards from its old true 15perf/70mm IMAX capabilities, since that change was made I had seen M:I-4 and The Dark Knight Rises there, so I know that it’s definitely much better than a standard multiplex auditorium. In contrast, I have no idea what Cineworld’s new Digital IMAX screen is like; it could well be much bigger, louder, and better, but I wasn’t willing to pay the extra to find out, because the second reason is…
- The Millennium Point Giant Screen is cheaper. There, it’s £6.50 for off-peak showings (which include all day Monday, the day I went to see it), plus 75p to book online; whereas the cheapest ticket for Cineworld’s new Digital IMAX screen is £4.80 on Bargain Tuesday PLUS a £4.50 IMAX add-on, with no booking fees. (For peak showings, it’s £8.50+75p at Millennium Point or £11.90 at Cineworld – but as if I’d pay to go to a peak time screening! ;))
ORIGINAL POST, December 2011:
No doubt the following post will make me a prime candidate for inclusion on the First World Problems website. And before I start I should note that I understand that the cinema had to change its screen format in order to be profitable.
I’m a big fan of the first and third Mission: Impossible movies. As David Bordwell explained in detail in this excellent essay, the pace and rhythm of M:I-3‘s story beats is such that the movie provides an excellent example of the archetypal narrative structure of modern action movies. Fortunately, within that template, the specifics were tweaked in numerous flashy and memorable ways (opening the film with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tense 1-to-10/gunshot-to-the-head count; keeping the true nature of the “Rabbit’s Foot” MacGuffin unexplained; coming into the Shanghai escape halfway though), and for the most part things were executed very well (that bridge action sequence is superb). M:I-3 wasn’t flawless, but is still one of my favourite action movies of the last few years.
The fourth entry in the series is directed by Brad Bird, and, like The Dark Knight, it sounds like native IMAX filming was a central enough element of its production that it’ll be worth paying the premium to see at an IMAX cinema.
The two IMAX films I’ve seen so far are The Dark Knight and Inception, both of which I saw at the IMAX screen at Birmingham’s Thinktank Science Museum. So today I visited their website to check their M:I-4 showing times and prices.
To my surprise, I learned that they’ve recently renamed the venue “The Giant Screen” and changed the screen’s format from IMAX film to a 4K digital format by a company called Barco. This raised alarm bells, because I’ve previously read comments and articles online warning that some screens marketed as IMAX Digital (or other non IMAX large-screen formats) are smaller than and inferior to true IMAX.
The cinema’s FAQ says:
Q) Do you still have a giant screen?
A) Yes. The new giant screen is the same width as before. The new screen and new projection system will mean that the projected image will better fit the screen. The cinema is still classified as a Giant Screen Cinema.
Now that sounded a bit evasive to me… they might emphasise that the screen is horizontally identical, but what about its height?
The science museum also has a separate technology website, where there’s a page all about the new screen’s equipment. (The video at the top of that page is worth a watch for the shots of the old IMAX projector in the process of being dismantled and removed.) In that page’s comments section, one of the venue’s staff helpfully provides this comment:
Our new screen is as wide as ever. However, due to the lack of film content produced in the previous 4:3 ratio (only a few IMAX documentaries and a percentage of scenes in a few feature films), we are moving to the feature resolution of 1.85:1. For all future feature presentations, the size of the projected image will be no smaller on our new screen than on the old IMAX screen. We are still classified as a Giant Screen Cinema.
As I understand it, that should probably read: “For all future presentations of features that were shot throughout with normal cameras in 1.85:1 or 2.35:1, the size of the projected image will be no smaller on our new screen than on the old IMAX screen – but for things natively shot with IMAX cameras, the screen won’t extend vertically enough to display them properly.”
So, it sounds like any sequences that were shot with IMAX cameras on 70mm film won’t appear at their full, spectacular height in their native 4:3 aspect ratio. Presumably they’ll either be cropped to the same 1.85:1 or 2.35:1 ratio that is used for their releases in normal cinemas and on DVD; or the 4:3 ratio will be retained by pillarboxing it so the full screen width isn’t used. Either way, it’s a little disappointing to learn that the IMAX sections of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol that were shot natively in IMAX won’t be as spectacular as when I saw The Dark Knight in that auditorium.
Now, I understand that the cinema had to change its screen format in order to be profitable. And although it’s become Fake IMAX, it does sound like it’ll be better in some ways: supposedly the screen’s brighter, that “luxury seating” sounds nice, and they can use the screen to show live events like sports and concerts (not that that’ll be relevant to me). And of course, it’s certainly still much more preferable than the alternative of seeing it at a normal Cineworld or Odeon multiplex: the incredible sound alone will ensure that.
But it’s not true IMAX, and that’s a bit of a shame.