IMAX: It's About More Than Just the Giant Screen, Or Is It?
IMAX has become a hotbed for controversy and exploration over the past few months; whether it be Aziz Ansari's blog post about "fake IMAX screens" and the outrage that spawned, or the rumor that Christopher Nolan wants to shoot the next installment of his Batman trilogy entirely in IMAX, the format appears to be constantly undulating between excitement and disappointment. Amidst this opposition, Erin McCarthy of Popular Mechanics spoke with Brian Bonnick, Senior Executive Vice President of Technology at IMAX, about just what's next for IMAX and how they're planning on quelling the negativity. Read on for more!
In short, Bonnick's position, like that of IMAX's at large, is unwavering in the belief that there's not been any wrong-doing. Here's an excerpt from his response when asked what he would say "to people who think they're not getting a real IMAX experience because they're not watching their movie on a huge, traditional IMAX screen":
"I think it all has to do with expectations. In the past, people have made reference to the big screen because it was a simple piece of terminology you can use. But what they were really speaking to was the fact that it was an immersive experience. The analogy I could use is that if I gave you a screen that was a mile wide, but I put it far away from you, it would look small. But it's still a big, big screen. But that screen, to be big, also has to be close to the audience. It turns out that in our large theaters, the field of view in the front row seat happens to be the same as in our [smaller] digital theaters, more or less. … We're providing an immersive experience, and yes, while the screen might not physically be as large, we're still filling that peripheral vision. That's really what we're about: making an experience that you forget you're looking through a window, you forget you're looking through a picture frame—you're sucked right into the experience."
While Bonnick's intentions are valid, and his reasoning sound, I still find it all a bit inadequate. Of course, I understand the economic difficulty to construct purpose-built venues for traditional, large-format IMAX screens. I understand that without these purpose-built venues, most theaters just can't house those 72-foot-high behemoths, let alone retro-fit one into an already in-service, regular theatre room. And while, yes, it does have to do (almost) entirely with one's expectations for what IMAX is and should be, it's precisely this expectation that should be being addressed -- not rationalized by percentages, screen square-footages, and analogies. I doubt even Aziz Ansari would have a problem with the so-called "fake IMAX" screens if they were simply branded as something other than what most people consider to be IMAX proper. Even if the large-format IMAX screens were branded in a way to highlight their sizable superiority (IMAX Ultra, if you will), then at least there would be a differentiation between the two. IMAX would still be able to attach their brand equity to each and every screen using their technology, but would also avoid any further confusion of expectation while in the process increasing the brand experience of their large-format screens.
But nary a word of this was spoken by Bonnick, as this interview is intended for readers of Popular Mechanics, the technical ins and outs of IMAX's current and forthcoming technology is the focus. Digital remastering via proprietary algorithms, video and audio focusing and parameter controls to optimize both throughout the lifetime of the projector lamps and loudspeakers, respectively, and a dual projector format that allows the image on the screen to be visible to both eyes simultaneously to ensure optimal clarity.
"We call it DRM, from digital remastering. That is a process where we take the filmmaker's film and convert it into digital form if was originally captured on film. If it was captured using a digital camera, we take that digital data and run it through a suite of proprietary algorithms that allow us to remove grain and noise and sharpen the image—basically improve the overall image fidelity. It is really what allowed us to bring Hollywood event films to IMAX. It has a very profound impact on enhancing the quality of an image. When you are blowing it up onto an IMAX screen, where an audience is very close to that screen, you really have to have high image fidelity. So that is what our image enhancement technologies have done. The system also allows us to convert 2D content to 3D."
As for the future of IMAX, Bonnick did tease a particular technology that would, for me, cement 3D as a lasting technique rather than a passing trend. What Bonnick dubs "ghost-busting" would effectively eliminate the double-image blur that often plagues 3D films when one eye's image bleeds into the other's. A problem that is a major personal deterrent for me becoming excited about or seeing films in 3D -- as I am more interested in experiencing the cleanest, most vivid, detailed digital image possible. If this electronic manipulation and image enhancement could even significantly reduce that blurring effect, then perhaps IMAX 3D is, indeed, the future.
Should you wish to read all of what's present and future for IMAX, there's tons to be had over at Popular Mechanics. It's a very interesting read with lots of technical details. Should you wish to gripe about, support, or debate the merits of IMAX's reasoning, well, that's what the comments below are for. Have at it!