UPDATE: Turns out that Aziz Ansari of Parks & Recreation started this ball rolling by twittering last night about what he calls these “fake IMAX” screens and urging a boycott of IMAX, AMC, and Regal theaters. “Don’t let them fool you. I went with a friend of mine to see Star Trek: The IMAX Experience at the AMC Theatre in Burbank today. I drove out of my way to see the film on the large IMAX screen and paid an extra $5 for the ticket, which felt worth it at the time. However, we get in the theatre and its just a slightly bigger than normal screen and not the usual standard huge 72 ft IMAX screen. I was very upset and apparently this problem is happening all over at Regal and AMC theatres. “REGAL, AMC, and IMAX – You are liars! Boycott them. Fuck them for taking advantage of people and charging them $5 extra. If you’re in LA, go to the Arclight from now on, and fuck the IMAX screens (fake and real).”
Here’s the background: AMC and Regal theaters have been advertising a new kind of IMAX experience, apparently duping people out of $5 for a screen that’s only slightly larger than a standard one. So claims an excellent article in LF Examiner, the independent journal of the large format motion picture industry. It chides the Imax Corp for not differentiating its new digital projection system in any way from the 15/70 film systems it has been installing in giant-screen theaters since 1970. This despite the fact that, according to Imax VP Larry O’Reilly, its two major digital partners, AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment Group, both originally wanted to brand the new screens as “IMAX Digital.”
But customers who pay $15 to see Eagle Eye: The IMAX Experience at New York City’s new AMC Empire 25 IMAX digital theater, with its 28 x 58-foot (8.5 x 18 meter) screen, “see the IMAX name on the theater and have no idea until after their ticket has been torn and they walk into the auditorium that [the] screen is about the same size as the one in the adjacent 35mm auditorium, and less than a quarter the size of the one in the AMC Lincoln Square IMAX 15/70 theater, 26 blocks away. The screen in the older film theater is 76 x 98 feet (23 x 30 meters).
Richard Gelfond, co-CEO of Imax Corp, explains that the company feared an “IMAX Digital” brand might cast the older film-based theaters as “second-class citizens” in the public’s mind, since “digital” generally has connotations of “newer,” and “cooler.” “It seems far more likely that the company was worried that ticket buyers who noticed the difference between the average 4,800 square-foot (450 square-meter) 15/70 film screen and a digital one 1,250 square feet (120 square-meters) in area wouldn’t return to the smaller if they could see the same movie on the larger. Widespread public preference for the “classic” experience would harm Imax’s return on the tens of millions of dollars it is investing in the 170+ joint venture deals it has signed… It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that even a very wide screen is not nearly as impressive as a one that towers six or eight stories high.
Concludes publisher/editor James Hyder, “I object when anyone claims that two patently different things are the same. Where I come from that’s known as ‘lying.’ And call me naïve, but I don’t believe that any company whose business plan is based on deceiving its customers can succeed with that strategy for very long. Imax Corporation, whose very name means “image maximum,” has spent four decades persuading the public that that name is synonymous with ‘big,’ with giant screens, with an experience that is completely unlike that of conventional multiplex cinema. If, for perfectly understandable business reasons, Imax now has to move into those smaller screens, let it distinguish this new product from the other screens in that theater, as a ‘premium multiplex experience.’ But expecting the ticket-buying public to believe that that experience is identical to one on a screen three or four times larger is insulting. People who have been to a true giant-screen theater will realize they have been misled, and will be disappointed, if not angry. Those who haven’t will wonder what the big deal about IMAX is, and will assume that any real giant-screen theater they come across in the future has nothing better to offer and perhaps never will have the real IMAX Experience….
“The tragic irony is that, forty years after Imax Corp. started trying to persuade Hollywood to shoot with IMAX cameras, the success of Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the first to do so, has finally encouraged several other directors to follow suit. Three or four coming films may incorporate 15/70 footage. And yet, by the time these movies open, the majority of IMAX theaters may be digital screens with 1.9 aspect ratios that make the dramatic transitions in resolution and image size all but invisible. What a waste!”