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May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam" 
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Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
There's a blog out there putting together a map of real and fake IMAX screens around the country:
http://destroyfakeimax.blogspot.com/

I've been to both real IMAX theatres, the King of Prussia and Franklin Institute ones in the area. I've also been to the recently-installed "IMAX" at AMC Neshaminy 24. There's no comparison - the real IMAX screens are the overwhelming visual experience kind while the AMC one is somewhat-sorta-bigger.

Now, I do have to add that they at least put the AMC Neshaminy installation in the biggest theatre in the complex, which was huge even before they put the IMAX in - it seated over 600 before the change and was at least several stories tall. It's nowhere near immersive but I have to imagine it's a far better experience than at Cherry Hill, where whoever designed the multiplex never heard the word "big". (half the time I go there, I'm stuck in a screen no bigger than my living room)


Thu May 14, 2009 12:54 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
I was so excited to see Watchmen: The IMAX Experience while I was in Honolulu at the Regal Dole Cannery 18 on their "new IMAX screen" and they actually had a guy pre-show tell us how wonderful it was and how this was the best theatrical presentation available on the island.

$14 later, I was pissed to discover that it was indeed fake IMAX. Ooh, the screen's slightly larger and the sound's amped up so that the ground vibrates slightly! It's total BS. That's not real IMAX.

So yes, everyone...caveat emptor, and thank you James for joining the growing chorus of voices speaking out against this travesty.


Thu May 14, 2009 1:04 pm
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Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
Unke wrote:
slksc wrote:
I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World was also a Cinerama film.


I think that was one of the so-called Cinerama films, which were not filmed with a three lens camera, i.e. they were not true Cinerama features. The documentary named How the West was won and the Brothers Grimm film, M.I.K.e. mentioned, as the only two three lens Cinerama movies


You're absolutely right; my memory, once again, betrayed me. According to the Wikipedia entry on IAMMMMW:

"The film was advertised and promoted as the first film made in "one-projector" Cinerama (Cinerama normally used one image split up onto three films on three projectors which were electronically synchronized to run simultaneously, and shown on a huge curved screen). However, there was never actually any such thing as one-projector Cinerama. What was really shown was an image photographed in the Ultra Panavision process and projected by one projector onto a Cinerama screen. This misleading ad campaign, labeling Ultra Panavision and Super Panavision 70 films as being in Cinerama, persisted throughout the 1960s with such films as Ice Station Zebra, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Khartoum. The latter two films even went so far as to include the Cinerama credit on the actual film."

Unfortunately, it seems that history is being repeated now with IMAX.


Thu May 14, 2009 2:16 pm
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Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
this is so sad. it was only a matter of time until people started sacrificing quality to earn an extra buck, but at least don't lie to the public!


Thu May 14, 2009 3:04 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
That said, the "fake cinerama" didn't change the fact that these 70mm films were still far and away superior when displayed in a cinerama equipped theater.

We actually have a legitimate original cinerama theater in seattle as well, I usually try to catch a 70mm film each year at the 70mm festival. This year I only saw the blowup of T2, but you will see 2001, lawrence of arabia, spartacus, etc and its all its advertised to be and more. The filmstock is getting a little old though. Spartacus is one of the widest feature presentations ever made. But none of these are actually the 3 lens cinerama productions, I get the sense that the term morphed to include 70mm films as the actual method was like imax in the beginning- for documentaries and nothing else.


Thu May 14, 2009 3:11 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
washington wrote:
That said, the "fake cinerama" didn't change the fact that these 70mm films were still far and away superior when displayed in a cinerama equipped theater.

We actually have a legitimate original cinerama theater in seattle as well, I usually try to catch a 70mm film each year at the 70mm festival. This year I only saw the blowup of T2, but you will see 2001, lawrence of arabia, spartacus, etc and its all its advertised to be and more. The filmstock is getting a little old though. Spartacus is one of the widest feature presentations ever made. But none of these are actually the 3 lens cinerama productions, I get the sense that the term morphed to include 70mm films as the actual method was like imax in the beginning- for documentaries and nothing else.

Yeah, that's a great theater. Even 35mm looks great there--just watched Star Trek there the other day and it was gorgeous.
I have yet to see a 70mm movie there though unfortunately--I keep meaning to.

That screen is easily bigger than the pay-extra IMAX at the AMC Southcenter Mall where I saw Monsters Vs. Aliens. So, scam? Definitely.


Thu May 14, 2009 4:20 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
I agree that IMAX is cheapening their own brand by doing this. IMAX is always best at a local science center...

As far as 3D surcharges go, movie studios have been demanding this and while theaters have complied, most are reticeint to charge a lot more as most customers are so clueless they think they are paying for the glasses. Any studio that releases a 3D film knows what each theater is charging, they encourage them to charge more (most had price increases before Monsters v. Aliens) and keep their usual 80%. Your local multiplex isn't getting a whole lot of extra revenue here. It is mostly a race to remain relevant as 3D becomes more and more frequent.

The 3D projection equipment is quite an investment and it is unfortunate as 3D is going strong now but I can't help but think it is a fad and will pass. I can't think of one 3D film that was enhanced by the 3D, but I can name several that were degraded by it.


Thu May 14, 2009 7:04 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
I hope it's a fad ... as a guy with no depth perception, 3D is a pipe-dream for me ;) I never quite did see what all the fuss was about.

EDIT: By the way, thanks for that post to the real / fake site ... I learned that the one here in Evansville Indiana is the real thing, so if anyone in my family tries to get me to go at least I'll know my $12.50 gets me the real deal.


Thu May 14, 2009 8:29 pm
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Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
HulkieD wrote:
It's nowhere near immersive but I have to imagine it's a far better experience than at Cherry Hill, where whoever designed the multiplex never heard the word "big". (half the time I go there, I'm stuck in a screen no bigger than my living room)


I know the theater you're referring to in Cherry Hill. They have two auditoriums which I believe seat about 100 people.

The "IMAX" auditorium seats around 350. Interestingly, it's only used about 75% of the time for IMAX films. When there's nothing "hot" available in IMAX, they still use that theater for playing regular movies (and don't charge extra for them). How bizarre is that?

The IMAX situation at the AMC in Hamilton (near Princeton) is almost a clone to Cherry Hill.


Thu May 14, 2009 10:13 pm
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Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
Thanks to HulkieD for posting that link to the fake/real IMAX map. Turns out my not-so-local Dublin theater is real (like I thought), as is the Metreon in San Francisco (as I thought). However, the newly opened Mercado 20 is fake (like I thought), as is AMC Eastridge 15 (I assumed so; haven't been there; don't need to now). I'm glad at least the sound quality is equal; that almost justifies the price difference in my book. The screen size is definitely a disappointment, though, and why I used the word "almost" in the previous sentence.

Oh, capitalism.


Fri May 15, 2009 11:11 am
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
Excellent, now I know to never go to the south center theater. I really only go to 4 theaters unless its an indie film:

Cinerama, imax pacific science center, lincoln square, and pacific place.


Fri May 15, 2009 12:30 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
I saw Star Trek in what I suppose must have been an "Old School" IMAX theater. I was very disappointed but I'm wondering if it was just a poor choice of theater. The theater itself had maybe 300-400 seats, not too big but the screen looked like basically 3/4 of a planetarium--it curved both around and upwards. The seating was very severely sloped upwards and the seats were all pretty close to the screen. The result was that I could not see either side of the screen without turning my head, meaning I felt like I was missing something most of the time. Also at the edges the movie seemed a little washed out and overall the sharpness was not what I expected.

This was at the Cradle of Aviation IMAX theater in Uniondale LI (by the Nassau Coliseum).

I have been to only a couple of other IMAX theaters and they have been simply enormous, slightly curved screens with more seats further from the screen, where you can see the whole thing but be awed by the sheer size and great sound.

I was wondering if my experience sounds right to anyone?


Sat May 16, 2009 9:57 am
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Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
mrjgard wrote:
I saw Star Trek in what I suppose must have been an "Old School" IMAX theater. I was very disappointed but I'm wondering if it was just a poor choice of theater. The theater itself had maybe 300-400 seats, not too big but the screen looked like basically 3/4 of a planetarium--it curved both around and upwards. The seating was very severely sloped upwards and the seats were all pretty close to the screen. The result was that I could not see either side of the screen without turning my head, meaning I felt like I was missing something most of the time. Also at the edges the movie seemed a little washed out and overall the sharpness was not what I expected.

This was at the Cradle of Aviation IMAX theater in Uniondale LI (by the Nassau Coliseum).

I have been to only a couple of other IMAX theaters and they have been simply enormous, slightly curved screens with more seats further from the screen, where you can see the whole thing but be awed by the sheer size and great sound.

I was wondering if my experience sounds right to anyone?


I'm pretty sure this is an OMNIMAX venue. Your description matches OMNIMAX. It is, in my view, a mistake to show IMAX feature films on OMNIMAX screens, although it is often done. Motion sickness often occurs from this.


Sat May 16, 2009 10:56 am
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Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
Just wanted to share my own excperience: in the early 2000s there was a huge IMAX theater in downtown Frankfurt, Germany, where I grew up. I visited my dad about four consecutive summers at the time and I saw six IMAX movies, three of them in 3D. The screen was huge and the hand-outs showed how the 70mm horizontal film was projected. I was in heaven. Especially the 3D features (One of a Canadian girl traveling back in time to experience dinosours and their extinction through a huge meteor, the other of a Russian boy coming to New York on a vessel - in search for his grantparents, carrying with him a 19th century 3D stereoscopic photograph viewer (all black and white photos were shown - full frame, many including the construction of the NYC subway - awesome!). These experiences were so intense, the focus, sharpness and the perceived depth were so real, that I literally could smell the water and the air. It triggered the remaining senses from experience. I also saw an animated 3D movie (so-so) and three 2D movies - one about the mount everest climbing, one about a Titanic wreck exlporation and one about whales.

All where old school IMAX: 70mm horizontal cine film and a huge 5000 square feet screen. I loved it. One summer (2007) I came - and all I could find announced in the pamphlets were digital documentaries made in crude CGI animation. Judging by the fact that the theater was never even half full, I knew they scrapped those precious dual IMAX projectors in favor of digital. Guess what: I never saw anyone attending a show during the last two summers when I was there checking.

I remember one trailer of the farewell show from Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas, filmed in old school IMAX 3D. I saw the white tiger's face about six inches away. Awesome. Combine the size, depth and ultra crisp sharpness with the silkiness of real film and that's old school IMAX. Wonderful!

I even remember from my childhood the projection format called cinema 180. It was a vertical running at 24 fps/10 perf 70mm film projected onto a dome (half of it to be precise). They had it on amusement parks. I went there every chance I got. This was still the 2D version, but people, standing - there were no seats, actually almost fell when helicopter rides through the Grand Canyon or a cable car ride in S.F. in increased speed were shown. Again we are talking about 6 story high screens. I know real film has its days numbered, but please make the digital version of IMAX even better instead of just cheaper and more convenient. The movies should be about magic.


Sat May 16, 2009 9:29 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
Before I clicked on the link, I was expecting "the great IMAX scam" to be about aspect ratio instead of the so-called fake IMAX theaters.

The IMAX aspect ratio (4:3) is the main reason why I don't go see feature films in IMAX theaters. I've seen a couple some years ago (Apollo 13 and Star Wars: Episode II) and was left extremely disatisfied by the changes in aspect ratio. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I think the filmmakers basically resorted to "pan & scan" to squeeze widescreen aspect ratio feature films down to IMAX's 4:3 aspect ratio. This was a bad idea in the days of VHS video releases, and it's just as bad an idea for converting widescreen feature films to the IMAX format.

How do recent IMAX feature films handle this? I know The Dark Knight had a couple scenes filmed with IMAX cameras, but what about the rest of the movie? Were the scenes filmed with non-IMAX cameras panned-and-scanned or "full frame" or did they letterbox it somehow? What about Star Trek on IMAX? How is that presented?

I remember Roger Ebert talked about 48fps film projection years ago. I really wish that innovation had caught on instead of 3D, IMAX, digital, etc.


Sun May 17, 2009 2:50 am
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
Darth Ed wrote:
Before I clicked on the link, I was expecting "the great IMAX scam" to be about aspect ratio instead of the so-called fake IMAX theaters.

The IMAX aspect ratio (4:3) is the main reason why I don't go see feature films in IMAX theaters. I've seen a couple some years ago (Apollo 13 and Star Wars: Episode II) and was left extremely disatisfied by the changes in aspect ratio. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I think the filmmakers basically resorted to "pan & scan" to squeeze widescreen aspect ratio feature films down to IMAX's 4:3 aspect ratio. This was a bad idea in the days of VHS video releases, and it's just as bad an idea for converting widescreen feature films to the IMAX format.

How do recent IMAX feature films handle this? I know The Dark Knight had a couple scenes filmed with IMAX cameras, but what about the rest of the movie? Were the scenes filmed with non-IMAX cameras panned-and-scanned or "full frame" or did they letterbox it somehow? What about Star Trek on IMAX? How is that presented?

I remember Roger Ebert talked about 48fps film projection years ago. I really wish that innovation had caught on instead of 3D, IMAX, digital, etc.


They letterbox it nowadays, but the picture is still blown up.


Sun May 17, 2009 5:09 am
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
James Berardinelli wrote:

I know the theater you're referring to in Cherry Hill. They have two auditoriums which I believe seat about 100 people.


That's actually generous - someone posted the [url="http://cinematreasures.org/theater/10353/"]screen counts on Cinema Treasures[/url] and they have seven screens out of the 24 that seat around 90 people each. One screen seats just 84 people. Seating count aside, this theatre (a Loews that AMC bought) is just badly designed - there are five or six rows of seats and they are placed extremely closely to the screen. And god forbid if you have to take a bathroom break, because there is just one set of bathrooms in the lobby, far away from the screens.

James Berardinelli wrote:
The "IMAX" auditorium seats around 350. Interestingly, it's only used about 75% of the time for IMAX films. When there's nothing "hot" available in IMAX, they still use that theater for playing regular movies (and don't charge extra for them). How bizarre is that?


Yes, they've seen them do the same thing at Neshaminy - I remember seeing Friday The 13th playing on the IMAX screen post-conversion. Sad thing is it's probably just as good an experience because those houses are massive. The experience even for IMAX movies is surprisingly multiplex-like; they run lots of trailers and even the digital ads which I haven't seen King of Prussia do at their IMAX yet.

OMNIMAX is another issue altogether - they stopped using that name years ago and started marketing all those screens as IMAX. Technically, it's IMAX Dome, but every theatre just uses IMAX as if it's the same thing. It's almost as much of a problem as the IMAX name being put on the smaller screens because there's a dramatically different experience in both.


Sun May 17, 2009 4:04 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
washington wrote:
I live in seattle and saw it on the legitimate IMAX screen at the pacific science center... the biggest scam is that somehow "digital" is better than good old analouge 70mm film stock. IMAX filmed natively in IMAX is unbelievable, part of made last summer's batman so much better. I'm intrigued to read that more movies are going to have select scenes in the format.


Agreed 100%: there's nothing like the look of real film, especially large formats. Digital still looks 'video-ey' - it took me seconds to spot it in movies like "Once Upon a Time in Mexico", "Click" or "Get Smart" - not to mention the the Michael Mann movies. They look like some kind of 2000s mockumentaries, sharp yes, but colors are downright ugly (the same problem that plagues digital photography), the contrast looks wrong and fast movement still has that video "smear". Also: digitally "filmed" movies still look unfinished, raw and unpolished, even if they are shown as prints on film stock - the problem is in the camera.
Yep, we are in a high tech world where poeple carry pda's and laptop computers with no utility other than making people look professional. Pathetic.
Sorry to be slightly off-topic. But, hey, film stock is expensive and it needs to go to the lab - sooo 20th century.... :(


Mon May 18, 2009 5:52 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
I just watched Dark Knight in IMAX for $2 at the grand opening of a theater.
The screen was very small--that was unfortunate, but expected.

The scenes shot specifically for IMAX were still awesome though. I would see a movie in that format if they have scenes shot for it, but otherwise it's not worth the extra $5.


Wed May 20, 2009 10:14 pm
Post Re: May 13, 2009: "The Great IMAX Scam"
I've got to disagree with James (and pretty much everyone else, I guess). IMAX is fooling people - but I believe that they have no choice.

First of all, in my view this is much more complicated than big screen vs small screen. By my count there are 5 independent variables that each play a major role in determining the quality of an IMAX screening:

1. Screen Size
2. IMAX digital vs IMAX film projector
3. DMR vs filmed-on-IMAX
4. Audio systems vary in quality
5. The quality of the particular movie

James talked about the first two in his blog posting, but number 3 is huge. IMAX could never convince hollywood to film their movies on IMAX cameras, so the compromise they eventually came up with was a software package called DMR which attempts to "upconvert" a 35 mm (or other much-smaller-than-IMAX filmstock) to the resolution of IMAX's huge film stock. This obviously results in a much less sharp/clear/you-are-there experience than the nature films we all experienced in the old school IMAX theatres that were filmed on the genuine giant IMAX film stock.

And IMAX was sneaky about it for sure - they never told anyone that it was definitely not the same experience.

Yet this was not enough to get the IMAX format to take off and become as popular as the IMAX executives thought it should be. The casual observer will feel little sympathy for IMAX's lack of take off - but you have to realize that IMAX was and is fighting for its life. Technologies take basically three trajectories - they take off and become omnipresent, they lower their goals and retreat to some small easily defended niche, or they try for the former, bankrupt their company, and perhaps have their tech bought out and made into one of the later.

IMAX has been taking increasingly bigger and more dangerous bets to try and make the big time. The company is leveraged to the hilt and has barely maintained the cash flow required to stay alive. Actually, last I checked it had in fact not maintained the cash flow required to stay alive, it's primary investors had sunk more money into it to keep it alive.

You can probably guess I am (or was) a stock holder - I was but no longer am. I thought IMAX was going to break out because I really believe it provides a superior movie going experience - but I took a bath when the SEC investigation was announced a few years ago and I am now skeptical that IMAX is going to reach the economies of scale and build the network externalities in needs to grow large enough to survive.

The reason that economies of scale are important is that there are big fixed costs in their business. When DMR was announced it cost 4 million dollars to convert a 35 mm film to IMAX - spread across 30 to 40 theatres this was a lot of money for the showing of one movie in one theatre. The IMAX executives thought that if they could just get enough theatres showing IMAX films the cost per theatre would come down, so more theatres would get built, so the cost per theatre would come down, etc. The virtuous spiral so many tech companies rely on to take off.

So the next compromise they made to try and induce the growth they felt they needed was to shrink the screen dramatically and start putting IMAX's in multiplexes - there just were not that many theatre operators willing to build a whole new building from scratch in order to house an IMAX theatre. If IMAX was to survive they needed to accommodate the theatre owners that wanted to retrofit an existing theatre (there was a surplus of stadium seating multiplexes left over from the building boom in the late 90s - and turning two stadium seating multiplex theatres into one new mini-imax theatre was a good way of working off the excess supply).

Again, this compromise allowed IMAX to become more popular - but not popular enough. Of course each of these dilutions of the IMAX experience hurt the brand but I don't think they thought they had a choice. Go look at their balance sheet if you do not believe me.

Finally, the last and most egregious compromise was introduced - digital projection. I live in Toronto which has 5 IMAX theatres (the company was founded and maintains its R&D headquarters here), but none of these is a digital IMAX theatre so I have no first hand experience with the quality of digital IMAX. I fear it sucks. But I believe it is necessary.

You see, IMAX has managed to build out enough theatres that I think that (with the help of moore's law) the cost of DMR-ing a movie is not a big deal now. They do have a big problem with a certain fixed cost however. The cost of a single IMAX print is said to be $50,000. This means that to recoup that cost a theatre has to be able to show an IMAX feature for about 6 weeks. As a result, IMAX has only been able to release a roster of about 6 to 8 movies a year. Even ersatz IMAX theatres cost millions to build - and that makes them darn hard to pay for when they are only showing 7 IMAX movies per year.

Digital projection I think may help IMAX deal with this problem. No film prints means no $50,000 per print - meaning that IMAX will be able to afford to put more than 7 movies a year into theatres. This in turn means that the IMAX theatres will have a much better chance of paying for themselves. Thus they try again to induce a self-reinforcing virtuous cycle.

This brings me to my point 5 in factors that make an IMAX screening enjoyable, "The quality of the particular movie". When I read what James wrote about how he did not think it is worth paying $4 to see a movie on IMAX I thought to myself "This guy is crazy!".

But then I realized I was thinking about only certain movies. Was it worth $4 to see "The Dark Knight" on IMAX? Hell yeah.

But I also saw Transformers on IMAX - and that was worth a $2 premium at best to me. And I think THEY SHOULD HAVE PAID ME to watch "The Matrix" 2 and 3 on IMAX.

This is because I have seen pretty much every hollywood movie released on IMAX in an IMAX theatre and I think that IMAX basically amplifies a movie going experience. It makes great movies greater, and lousy movies lousier. Until I saw Keneau Reeves on IMAX I thought he was an OK actor.

When you put the work of the Christopher Nolans and the Heath Ledgers of the world up on an IMAX screen, it is mind blowing. Unfortunately, there are a lot more movies released every year that are made by people like Michael Bay. You see this in the size of line ups at the IMAX theatres. When a movie really works on IMAX the theatre is full 3 weeks after it has opened because word of mouth has gotten around. With poorer quality movies the IMAX theatre is nearly empty - there is no way these films are paying for their $50K per print much less paying off their share of the mortgage that must have been taken out to build the IMAX theatre.

It is this fact that I fear may doom IMAX. The last glimmer of hope I hold is that with digital projection, IMAX will be able to release much more than just 7 movies per year because it will not cost each theatre $50k per print. That means that the better quality movies (which lets face it, attract smaller audiences) will be able to make it onto IMAX where the quality of their acting/directing/etc will be able to shine through.

Or maybe IMAX's key investors will decide to cut their losses and let the company go bankrupt. Quite frankly, with everyone moving to digital projection IMAX no longer has an edge - it has no special technology that separates it from its competitors.

My expectation is that 25 years from now people will be getting "the IMAX experience" - blockbuster films projected using high resolution digital projectors on very large screens. But it will not be called IMAX.


Sun May 24, 2009 7:06 pm
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