Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Can IMAX save movie theaters?

I went to see Superman Returns in IMAX-3D tonight, and it was great fun. PART of the fun was the circus of seeing the movie itself. The 3D in IMAX-3D is not completely there just yet (it's a bit hard to focus on something at the dead center of the screen), but it's good enough to actually enhance the experience, rather than detract from it (as traditional 3D often did).

The audience was hyped up for it, though. They even applauded the trailer for The Ant Bully, and the four 3D sequences in the film itself got big ovations.

Which got me to thinking.

Could IMAX save the movie theater business?

Granted, IMAX-3D seems a poor way to show an art film or an indie comedy or something, but those tend to be consigned to arthouses anyway (unless they're huge breakout hits).

But when the movie industry wanted to combat television, what did it do? It made the screen bigger. It introduced gimmicks. And it turned to lavish productions that you just couldn't see on television. These measures were just enough of a stopgap to get film to the 70s, when it became something people went to see for the art as much as the spectacle and the studios could breathe easily again.

IMAX-3D combines all of the above. It's on a massive screen, it's got a built-in gimmick (that actually works and could be utilized in all sorts of neat, storytelling-centric ways), and it would seem to best benefit big, spectacular films (like Superman or animated comedies -- I'll bet that Spider-Man turns up in 3D as well, come next May). Plus, movie theaters can legitimately charge more money for IMAX tickets, as your average Joe will think he's getting more for his money.

Now, obviously, I don't know that this will enhance the art of cinema all that much, but it certainly could help the commerce of cinema. It's definitely something you can't wait to see at home, that's for sure.

We're in the nascent days of this technology (indeed, something like 100 screens in North America are equipped to show Superman in 3D), but I can't help but think that the days of all-IMAX multiplexes are that far off, with directors doing their best to throw in two or three sequences per movie that would look great in 3D.

And the market for retrofitting old films as 3D films could be enormous. Who doesn't want to see Star Wars in 3D, just to see how it looks? Or Raiders of the Lost Ark? Or Lawrence of Arabia, to get a sense of those vast, vast desert expanses?

I'm not going to pretend that this is going to do anything to solve Hollywood's budgetary excess (as popular a character as Superman is, no character merits a nearly $300 million budget), but it could prove a stopgap to get the industry through some rough times if carried out on a wider scale.

1 comment:

Tram said...

James Cameron has been touting 3D, like, forever.

I used to think he was cuckoo. But now, it actually kinda makes sense.