Thoughts on the IMAX/Not-IMAX Debate as <i>Night at the Museum 2</i> Replaces <i>Star Trek</i> in the Nation's IMAX Screens

About that ridiculous ongoing debate about the new digital IMAX screens popping up in retrofitted conventional movie theaters, here's the thing: IMAX is not just about screen size.
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Just for the record, if the Star Trek grosses for weekend three take a slightly bigger dive than expected, you might need to remember that it won't have the IMAX advantage that it had in its two previous weekends. After a mere two-week engagement, the Paramount picture is being supplanted by the 20th Century Fox tent pole, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Whether the film is good or bad (I didn't care much for the first one), I must confess that this is a refreshingly appropriate choice to receive the enhanced IMAX treatment. After all, until recently, IMAX screens were mainly the mainstay of museums that used them to show shorter educational features. The film actually had its official premiere at the Smithsonian IMAX theater in Washington, DC. What better cross promotion than a big budget film series that is set in a museum which features various historical characters coming to life?*

Oh, and about that ridiculous ongoing debate about the new digital IMAX screens popping up in retrofitted conventional movie theaters, here's the thing: IMAX is not just about screen size. It's about picture quality, sound quality, and the theoretical ability to completely immerse yourself in the film. Yes some of the original screens are 72-feet tall, but that's not a requirement. This Wired article sums up the issue nicely. As for actor Aziz Ansari, who started this debate with a critical blog entry about paying for an IMAX ticket at the AMC Burbank 16 and being dissatisfied with the screen size, I have two things. First of all, you can't watch the whole movie and then go out to the ticket booth and demand a refund. Just like you can't eat your whole steak and then complain that it was overcooked. Second of all, he claims he drove out of his way to see Star Trek in IMAX. Fair enough, but (out of pure curiosity) the heck didn't he just drive about five minutes 'that way' to the Universal City Walk theater with a truly giant 'traditional' IMAX screen?

I happened to have seen Monsters Vs. Aliens 3D at the AMC Burbank 16 several weeks ago. I knew darn well that the screen wasn't as big, but the showtime and location was more convenient than the Universal City Walk, I didn't have to pay for parking, and I wanted to try out the newfangled IMAX. Guess what? It was still a completely immersive experience, so much so that I almost enjoyed the otherwise mediocre movie. Sure for something that I truly want to drown myself in (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Transformers 2: Revenge of The Fallen), I'll do my best to get to the Universal City Walk. But for other films that happen to be available in IMAX (cough-Night at the Museum 2-cough), I'll gladly accept a 90% IMAX experience for 300% more convenience. I live in Woodland Hills, so I have yet another new IMAX screen at the AMC Promenade 16.

As IMAX becomes the new normal for tent pole pictures, theaters have no choice but to find a way to meet the demand. And its a good thing that those who would otherwise have to drive hours to find an old-fashioned IMAX screen to now have a comparable option at their local megaplex. If size is the key factor, then consumers have the choice to not pay the premium price for an up-converted IMAX film (or they can just sit really close to the screen). Just remember, if you walk into your local mall theater and see that it now has an IMAX auditorium, don't be shocked when they didn't magically put a 72 foot long screen right next to the food court.

Scott Mendelson

* In case you're curious, an IMAX contact graciously provided me with a list of museum-specific theaters that are playing Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

Birmingham - IMAX Dome Theatre at McWane Centre
District of Columbia
Washington - Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater at the National Museum of Nat. History
Washington - Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater at the Smithsonian Institute
Fort Lauderdale - AutoNation® IMAX® Theater at Museum of Discovery and Science
St. Augustine - World Golf Hall of Fame IMAX Theatre
Des Moines - Science Center of Iowa & Blank IMAX Dome Theater
Baltimore - Maryland Science Center IMAX Theater
Dearborn - The Henry Ford IMAX Theatre
New York
Garden City - Leroy R. and Rose W. Grumman IMAX Dome Theater
North Carolina
Raleigh - Wachovia IMAX Theatre at Marbles Kids Museum
Harrisburg - Select Medical IMAX Theater at The Whitaker Center
Austin - The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum IMAX Theatre
Fort Worth - Fort Worth Museum Omni Theater
Houston - Wortham IMAX Theatre
Seattle - Pacific Science Center Boeing IMAX Theatre

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