The Lie of IMAX Digital: The Dark Knight Rises Problem

Categories: Film and TV

dark-knight-rises-ew-01.jpg
via Entertainment Weekly
Batman, perhaps stuck viewing his own film on his tiny iPad
UPDATE 7/16: Turns out, The Dark Knight Rises will be showing in 15/70 format at the Cinemark 17. One caveat: the theater is a digital IMAX retrofit. Which means it's big and badass, but the Omni theater in Fort Worth is a solid bet for seeing DKR in the optimum projection. See below for more details, and our users guide to watching Dark Knight in Dallas right here.

There are four IMAX theaters in Dallas, if you include the Frisco AMC Stonebriar 24: the AMC Northpark 15, Cinemark 17, and the Museum of Nature and Science.

Quick background: IMAX film, which debuted in 1970, is 70 mm wide (about the size of a post card), and each frame has 15 perforations. With a true IMAX projector, the film is run through horizontally -- so audiences see the width of film in the height of the frame.

Of the four IMAX theaters, only one in Dallas, the Museum of Nature and Sciences, projects in the native 70 mm format. The other IMAX theaters in Dallas are using digital projectors, in a format often lovingly referred to as lieMAX. So, what's the difference between the 70mm and digital?

IMAX Digital typically uses two, side-by-side 2K Christie projectors. As Peter Sciretta, of Slash Film reported, the two digital projections are layered over each other, giving the film a super size. Here's our problem:

Say, for example, you're checking out The Dark Knight Rises (squee!), which will boast the most IMAX footage ever shot for a Hollywood movie, on a dual-digital IMAX projector (like AMC Northpark). You'll see the film on a screen about 25x58 feet. Cool, right?

Except that true IMAX, as Slash Film reported, broadcasts on a screen that's 76x97 feet. The difference is breathtaking.

slashfilm_batman.jpg
Via Slashfilm

Edwin Perez, the projectionist at Cinemark 17 (which currently uses the dual-digital projectors) on Webb Chapel, explained that IMAX digital results in "crisper sound and clearer image." More "realistic." Yet, if you're viewing a film shot with true IMAX cameras, like The Dark Knight Rises or Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, in with the dual-digital projectors, you're missing one helluva kinetic, hair-raising experience.

Dave Codeglia, who's been working in Los Angeles as a filmmaker for ten years at Ghostlight, says, "You should get what you pay for, whether you can tell the difference or not. I'm working for a film that's partially shot on IMAX, and it's a difficult format to work with. The cameras are bigger, noisier, heavier, and you have to reload after every 3 minutes of shooting. Still, the footage is absolutely stunning! It's a shame to think that the audience will only get half the experience that the filmmakers intended and went through all that extra effort to deliver."

So, there's the fiscal issue. Think of it this way: watching The Avengers, which was artificially blown up to be IMAX after production, will run you

IMAXdigital.jpg
Gizmodo
The dual-2K Christie projectors used in IMAX digital
$12.00 at AMC Northpark and $15 in 3D ($16.25 for IMAX 3D at Cinemark 17). So, basically, you're laying down IMAX prices for a film that was made a little bigger, a little louder.

There's a big difference between getting bang for your buck, and utilizing a artistic medium. Any movie can be stretched and volume-jacked. True IMAX isn't just big--it's a mural. Viewing a film shot with IMAX cameras in IMAX Digital is like watching a baseball game on the Jumbotron when you're sitting behind the plate.

But, again, we arrive at the problem: There's only a handful of theaters in Texas fitted to screen The Dark Knight Rises in the proper format, and many of them rarely show Hollywood features. Right now, you'd have to trek to San Antonio's Rivercenter theater to see Bane break the Bat -- or any other IMAX films -- the way he was meant to. Sure, there'll be some special screening somewhere, but what's the point of IMAX theaters that don't screen true IMAX? Take away the IMAX name. Call it HAM: Huge Ass Movies. I don't care. Just don't handcuff audiences by making them watch the Jumbotron when there's plenty of room behind the plate.

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42 comments
Reticuli
Reticuli

I think IMAX sound may have been superseded by some newer non-IMAX installs, and/or perhaps the IMAX-tailored mixdowns are not translating properly to many of these auditoriums. The mixdown translation issue is a big one, because other film standards have a very rigorous level of consistency and caliber to prevent problems there. The idea a newer SDDS-capable theater install from a major chain or the original Sony mixdown facility could be lacking due to anything but user error or faulty equipment is not believable. Anyone claiming that has no clue what they're talking about. Yet IMAX installs seem to have very little consistency anymore and poor ability to match mix to auditorium, even if the auditorium is state-of-the-art, used properly, and in good working order… and we can’t even be certain of those with the way the licensing system for IMAX has now changed. I consistently feel non-IMAX installs are now clearer and more delicate sounding, while the IMAX ones are shouty, overly loud, and lack dialogue clarity. The idea that IMAX will sound better automatically because it is more watts, capable of higher SPL, and actually driven over 85dB c-weighted in most of their auditoriums is patently contrary to good audio advertising.

Texasfright
Texasfright

I've watched it on a regular 4k digital lieMax (AMC Parks Mall) and the Ft Worth Omni. Honestly I waited 2hours at omni to get a center spot, the scenes filmed for Imax (75 mins or so) were breathtaking but the rest of the movies non imax shots were distorted and hard to make out. The non imax shots seemed almost bootleg in quality to be honest due to the size. I'd say maybe 10 mins of the 75 mins of Imax shots as well were hard to make out. So I would not recommend Omni as a first screening, it makes the movie hard to follow for a first time. The crisp 4k projection of the liemax screening was beautiful the entire movie, granted the difference between imax shots and regular is minimal but the entire movie is an enjoyful film experience as opposed to the OMNI you seem to be waiting for it to switch back to IMAX shots so you can get a clear picture. The Omni has well has very very uncomfortable seats which makes the 2hr 45 min film experience a chore, you can tell that place was made for short length features.

 

I'm going to watch it at the Webb Chapel Imax as well this coming friday night, anxious to see how this one is.

Abcde
Abcde

Why would the dome shape not make it suitable for a long movie? 

Mark Brack
Mark Brack

Give me a f*%^ing break!  I am a former theatrical film exhibitor owning several theatres and for a time was a projectionist at the Cinemark Webb Chappel IMAX when it ran 70mm15 perf.  I HATED and still hate the original IMAX aspect ratio which is essentially 1.33 to 1. I also hated the way you were smushed up close to the screen with the old IMAX! I much prefer the new DIGITAL IMAX format which is pretty close to Cinemascope and Panavison's aspect ration of 2.35 to 1.  Please don't believe that bullshit that 70mm film will be better - it will not be.  Yes film it in 70 IMAX but present it in DIGITAL IMAX with NO JITTER!  I have run 70mm standard 5 perf as well as IMAX 15 perf - and I will take IMAX DIGITAL ANY DAY over 70mm film!  The largest decent DIGITAL IMAX for my money is the Mesquite 30 great theatre great 2.35 to 1 (almost) aspect ratio - the old IMAX aspect ratio and the OMNIMAX aspect ratio suck IMO.

Nick R.
Nick R.

Right--the post was updated. At the time of the post, Cinemark 17 was only showing in digital formats. And according to IMAX's site: Webb Chapel is a digital retrofit http://www.imax.com/theatres/ , so you won't be getting the EXACT same res. as Fort Worth's dome. Which is a matter of taste, but you get the idea. 

Guest
Guest

70 mm IMAX > digital IMAX > cinemark xd , Amc etx

Test
Test

Fort worth IMAX is dome shaped which may not be suitable for a 2 hour movie

ShimmyBoy
ShimmyBoy

How does Cinemark XD stack up against IMAX Digital?

Jerry
Jerry

Is the Colleyville IMAX legit?

Guest
Guest

Has anyone seen a hollywood movie at the Fort Worth Omni IMAX?  How is it?  I've only been to the Webb Chappel IMAX, but am considering making the drive out to Fort Worth to try out the bigger screen.  Was a little bit worried that the screen might be TOO big for a regular movie...if that's even possible.

Guest
Guest

 The Dallas Museum doesn't actually have the capacity to show the Dark Knight due to not having the equipment to hold an IMAX DMR film - a 45 minute IMAX documentary already weighs several hundred pounds - a feature length film weighs much more and has a much larger film reel.  The OMNI in Fort Worth upgraded to be able to show feature length documentaries several years ago.

Guest
Guest

The cinemark 17 & IMAX at Webb Chapel will be showing it in 15/70mm - as well as the OMNI IMAX Theater in Ft. Worth.  The comments about the Webb Chapel screen not being a true IMAX are false.  That theater was built for an IMAX screen and is not a retrofit - it may be a smaller IMAX screen, (around 50 something feet I think) - it is definitely quite a bit bigger than the converted theater at northpark.

Guest
Guest

The Omni Theater at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History will be showing The Dark Knight Rises on true 15/70 IMAX film, first showing at midnight, July 20, then 24 hours after that,  An 80' IMAX Dome and amazing sound.

Genevieve Kissinger
Genevieve Kissinger

I read this article a month ago...it's bugged me that I had never seen a movie in true IMAX format. Then I saw Prometheus at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin. I was sold. I'm making the trek to Austin for the The Dark Knight Rises. yep. It's worth it. 

RavenDove
RavenDove

I think a lot of the comments posted here are completely missing the point.  The problem here isn't about sound quality or whether the projector is digital or old-fashioned film.  The problem is that the so called IMAX screens here in dallas are less than a quarter of the size that they should be.  I expected an awesome showing of Prometheus at the AMC in Firewheel until I walked in.  My first thought was "that's just a regular size screen".  Bottom line: I will NOT be seeing The Dark Knight Rises in that theater.  If that means I have to drive several hours to give my money to a cinema that doesn't screw its customers, then so be it.

Brian Christopher81
Brian Christopher81

IMAX on Webb chapel will be showing in true imax form. 70mm. Not digital. Just FYI.

Brent Kennedy
Brent Kennedy

Was battleship shot in imax?  They claim it will be in IMAX, but i cant find this information.  Also, just FYI, i was told by the movie theater manager that Avengers was never run in a IMAX reel so there will never be a true IMAX showing of it, unlike most of the previous entries!

Tina
Tina

The Cinemark 17 is confirmed to play Dark Knight in the 70 MM format. I've called and asked before. Also, the 3D prices for their IMAX is $15.25, not 16.25.

Guest
Guest

And Dark Knight Rises will not be in 3D because Nolan does not agree with 3D, but lives by IMAX.  So the price for the IMAX ticket will surely be less.

Guest
Guest

The one thing about this article: There are no projectionists by the name of Edwin Perez.

Guest
Guest

 At the Cinemark they list, of course.

025206
025206

I just call the Cinemark IMAX theater in Dallas and their workers told me that they have already converted their both to be able to run 70mm and digital and that dark knight will be playing in full 70mm format

Nick R.
Nick R.

Slash Film (http://www.slashfilm.com/qa-im... broke down really well what the Retro-Fit IMAX theaters technically have vs. planetarium / dome style projections have. 

According to IMAX's website (http://www.imax.com/theatres/?..., Cinemark is that digital / retrofit -- but we'll definitely update if we get confirmations on screenings, as I want to see it 15/70 mm too!

Nick R.
Nick R.

To clarify--retrofit film theaters (like Cinemark 17, according to IMAX's site), are, I think, MUCH better, more-fitted than straight, average, digitally-made theaters. But those theaters are still rarer than the opposite.

My 2 Cents
My 2 Cents

I tend to disagree, but I may be bias as I have worked as a projectionist for sometime. Including as an IMAX and digital projectionist. I will say however, that most costumers such as yourself tend to agree with you. I would argue that its a mix of lack of education and believing all the marketing of the IMAX corp. And I also believe the debate will continue between formats  as it always has, back and further...

Put simple I would say that IMAX is nothing more than a larger screen at short distance, like sitting in front of a 50in tv, it looks impressive if mainly do to proximity to the screen. However the actual presentation, that is to say the quality of the image on screen is almost always sub par; dirty prints,uneven light, uneven field of focus. And god help you if something goes wrong with the print during playback, that's an instant canceled showing. The next thing people usually argue is how impressive the sound is, but again this is an area of contention. Most people and I do mean almost all people, have no ear for good sound. I know its a bit  harsh, but it's sadly true, I worked at an IMAX theater in OK, and for sometime we had a surround speaker out. More specifically our low end, which would mean nothing but horns for that right side. Not one complaint ever came in, not one. Just patron after patron walking out proclaiming tht noting compared to IMAX sound and that's why they come here, yada, yada,yada.  And keep in mind this was one of only two surround speakers. Most IMAX theaters I have seen only have one left/right surround with baffles built on. The IMAX sound is very typically just "cranked up" to a higher SPL to "impress". sorry but loud doesn't equal a good theater EQ. For my money I want a full surround effect, now they're (non-IMAX) even starting to use 13.1 sound, I can't wait to hear it! But plain and simple IMAX is outdated & its too expensive compared to digital and that will be its downfall. Not to mention that as digital continues to advance the differences offered by digital will surely win out. They say hobbit will be 4K 3D at 48 frames per second, I wish I still worked in the biz b/c I would love to get a peek. I guess plain an simple IMHO digital will always look better on screen and typically sound better (depending on the theater) than IMAX. But sure, if you're looking to be "blown away" by sitting up close like a kid in front of a tv have at it and enjoy it while its around, just don't try and preach that its better. at least not to me...

Donna Douglas
Donna Douglas

I saw the first Dark Knight film at the Omni IMAX at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History, it was fantastic.

Guest
Guest

A few points about this story that may need to be addressed. First, the story seems to indicate that being Digital automatically means that it is going to be small, that is not necessarily the case. The Cinemark IMAX did not shrink the size of their screen when they went Digital, Granted their screen was not huge like a lot of the IMAX screens out there but size never seemed to be an issue with the cinemark theater in the past. Most of the giant screen IMAX theaters are switching over to Digital and not compromising their quality. Like any other technological advance, there are going to be tradeoffs by going Digital over film. Some things about film are better some things about Digital are better. The Houston Museum just ditched their IMAX 3D and actually went with a non-IMAX dual Barco 4K 3D projection system (and did not reduce their screen size). You can still have the traditional Giant screens with Digital projection, it is just that IMAX and the theaters they are entering into agreements with have chosen not to make their theaters big. It is not a limitation of being Digital, just another case of business winning out over art. The OMNI theater has ran a great deal of IMAX Hollywood features on their IMAX/OMNIMAX Dome. Dallas Fair Park IMAX Dome has only ran Fantasia 2000as their only non-documentary offering. Watching a cropped widescreen aspect ratio film on an IMAX dome can de a bit tedious to say the least and not the best experience, although some will say it is better than the smaller multiplex IMAX offerings.

Nick R.
Nick R.

Thanks for reading and pointing this out. For sure this conversation has to include the pros and cons of digital -- as the projectionist over at Cinemark noted, digital is supposed to sound crisper and "more realistic." But my frustration right now (and in the near future), is IMAX cameras output a certain artform in their images--and it's frustrating, that as a viewer, I'm only able to view that kind of output (like TDKR) under special circumstances. 

For example: it was nearly impossible (after tix sold out)  to see Dark Knight Rises prologue in its proper format. Through WB's site, there were only a handful of theaters in Texas showing the prologue. Because Christopher Nolan wanted it shown in theaters that screened 70mm. So, what's a fan to do? Why have IMAX with caveats--is my argument.

Guest
Guest

Nick, I share your frustration, I remember seeing The Dark Knight when it came out in IMAX at the Cinemark. the scenes that were shot in the 15/70 format were absolutely stunning when viewed in the format that they were originally shot in. I share the same frustration, I am frustrated that I may have to drive to Austin to the Bob Bullock Museum to see the Dark Night Rises in IMAX 15/70 film format, that is, unless they convert to digital between now and then. I will share that I was much more skeptical of Digital for the giant screen until I read reviews of a side by side split screen shoot-out of digital vs. IMAX film earlier this year. I must say that I am still a purist in a lot of respects and still prefer film, however, the overwhelming response from the folks that were in attendance seemed to prefer how the digital looked when compared side by side with IMAX film (and these were people in the Giant Screen Industry and not just John Q public). Unfortunately, here in North Texas, we do not have a true Giant Screen IMAX theater or ones of equal quality. So until we have a true Giant Screen (IMAX or Third Party) venue to watch these films in, we must seek out the closest place to do so. and it pains me to say that IMAX will at some point in the not so distant future convert over to 100% Digital... Did someone say "Assimilate or Die"???

FYI...
FYI...

just thought I should chime in since I have friends that work at the cinemark imax. It's interesting that the author would post this and comment on that cinema since I know from speaking to my friends at the theater that the cinemark has not only digital but imax film projectors as well. and I am told that they are using the film projectors for the dark knight rises. I can;t speak for any of the other places but I will say, I like many of you should probably be inline for the midnights at Cinemark, at least they care about pleasing costumer. at any rate, since the author didnt seem to fact check I thought I would post a note. Don't believe me, maybe give them a call and ask I'm sure they'll be happy to correct the authors mistake...

JIm
JIm

To be fair, not all digital IMAX screens are the same size. Some are bigger than others. The one in my city is 70ft by 40 ft, Its amazing.

Upyours
Upyours

HA! You aren't even getting true IMAX. lol

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

LieMAX doesn't give you "half the experience" of IMAX.  It's more like a quarter of the experience.

I knew I wasn't getting full IMAX at Webb Chapel, but until your infographic I didn't realize just how little I was getting.

Moviegoers need to be aware of this ripoff and vote with their dollars accordingly.

CaptFantastic
CaptFantastic

IMAX basically found a way to monetize their brand by expanding their own specifications of what qualifies as IMAX.  This article is a continuation of a long standing argument that what is being called "IMAX" today, is not the IMAX that most of us know.   Comic and TV Star, Aziz Anari blogged about this a while ago and started a wider debate about this issue (http://goo.gl/ciyIO).  I went to Houston specifically to see the Dark Knight trailer and MI:GP movie on that real IMAX screen, and after seeing it in that native presentation, you really feel like the $15 for IMAX at Northpark is a ripoff.   I find that the resulting image at Northpark's IMAX and sound is superior to what theaters have been giving, but it's still not real IMAX.  If they'd just called it something else, a lot of this would have never surfaced.   But much like movies that are given 3D after the fact, instead of being natively shot in 3D, movies "converted" to IMAX is a little like drinking Folgers instant coffee... 

Nick R.
Nick R.

Yes. Upvote for the Instant coffee comparison. And thanks for that Aziz linkage!

Lexie
Lexie

So that begs the question...can we get the Museum to show TDKR??!!!! Problem solved! :)

quahog_convo
quahog_convo

Hell yes.

turbosix
turbosix

this begs the question... does the museum actually have the wattage to back up the audio portion?

Guest
Guest

The answer in short is YES! With a beefier sound system driven by Bryston amps and 8 18 inch subs behind the screen, the Museum actually has a more substantial sound system than the newer smaller flatscreen theaters. So yes, in wattage, Speaker configuration, and pure muscle the museum can more than back up the audio portion.

Nick R.
Nick R.

That would be cool. They had special screenings of the Dark Knight prologue before in different areas in Texas, but it totally shouldn't be so much work just to see a movie the way it was supposed to.

Lexie
Lexie

Can you guys arrange a screening there? :) I'm going to your screening of Battleship

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