I’ve seen a couple 35mm movies blown up to IMAX. I saw Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at the Boston Aquarium on opening day. Harry and The Potters rocked the lobby while we waited. Yeah, I saw them before they were cool. Now they’ve sold out and gone all corporate Wizard Rock. Last weekend I went to see The Dark Knight at the only IMAX theater in NYC. I had to stake out Fandango at 2:45pm last Tuesday in order to snag tickets before they sold out.
Simply put, it’s a very impressive experience. I did a little research on the technical specs. I had thought IMAX was just a fancy name for 70mm, but although it uses 70mm film, it actually runs sideways through the camera to get a little extra resolution, like the old VistaVision process that used two sideways 35mm film frames to approximate one wide 70mm frame. Unfortunately, they couldn’t feasibly shoot the whole movie in IMAX, so there are large portions in boring old 35mm, which frankly just doesn’t cut it when projected back to back with IMAX shots. A lot of times scenes will have IMAX establishing shots, then immediately cut to 35mm. The first time it happened it got my hopes up, because I was expecting to see a whole sequence in IMAX, but it just ended up being disappointing. Eventually I got used to the idea.
And the real winner is the sound. There’s no Dolby matrix or anything. It’s totally uncompressed sound. And there are obviously some fantastic speakers involved. When I saw the boring old 35mm version at the Union Square theater on opening night, the subwoofer case was rattling, which was really annoying. It’s kind of par for the course though. In the past few weeks I’ve also seen Wall-E slightly out of focus, and Wanted projected through a spherical lens instead of anamorphic. When the Universal logo came on, the Earth looked like this:
Imagine if someone were actually paying attention to the projection. I suspect that would have been fixed during the trailers. We walked out after the first minute and got our money back.
The downside of the IMAX Experience ™ for me was some weird projection issues. Dark scenes often had what looked like a slightly milky overlay in the center of the image, like someone was shining a large flashlight on the screen. It was subtle, but annoying. There was also a clear vignetting in some scenes, where the image loses brightness as it gets towards the edge. I have a feeling those are related issues, and have something to do with the physics of projecting such a large image. I didn’t see it so much in the IMAX sequences though, just in the 35mm blowup portions.