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The IMAX Experience versus 3D – My take

Updated on November 24, 2013
A more modern IMAX theater without the steep sloping seats or the large concave screen.  This IMAX looks almost like a larger regular theater auditorium
A more modern IMAX theater without the steep sloping seats or the large concave screen. This IMAX looks almost like a larger regular theater auditorium

Back in the mid 80’s, I had the pleasure of my first ever visit to an IMAX theater at the Boston Museum of Science and Technology. I have to admit, the experience amazed me.

Walking into this enormous room with steps climbing virtually into the heavens, a giant concave screen just waiting to alight with images. It was enough to take my breath away. And I had absolutely NO idea of what was in store for me once the presentation began.

There was a preshow designed to show audience members how the IMAX theater worked, complete with full lighted reveal of the projectors and sound equipment (There were, I believe, 19 separate speakers, if I remember correctly). Then, the technical crew revealed yet another pleasant surprise.

The pre-show was narrated by none other than Boston native Leonard Nimoy who grew up just three blocks from the site of the science museum. As a huge Star Trek fan, I was delighted.

The movie experience itself was, to say the least, amazing. With the concave screen broadcasting images in your entire periphery, it felt like you were actually part of the action. The movie I watched that day, dealt with daredevils, including a race car driver and a mountain climber. The imagery left a lasting impression on me. This was the closest thing to a 3-D movie I had ever experienced.

In those days, 3-D movies were less than technologically superior, though. Back then, it was a gimmick to be exploited, kind of like Sensurround and Smellovision which were short lived fads, thank heavens!

Traditional IMAX seating as found in Museums such as the Boston Museum of Science and Technology.
Traditional IMAX seating as found in Museums such as the Boston Museum of Science and Technology.

In comparison, today’s technology is incredible when it comes to 3-D movie making. Commercial IMAX, however, is markedly different from the IMAX theaters you will find in science museums and other non-profit venues.

I had the pleasure of seeing Thor: The Dark World this weekend on just such a commercial screen at CarouselCenter. Or Destiny USA. Or whatever they’re calling it this week.

IMAX was not what I expected it to be. This theater doesn’t have the giant convex screen or the steeply sloping seating arrangement so predominant in the non-profit IMAX experiences I’ve visited in the past. Instead, this looks like a larger variant of the multiplex theaters we’ve become accustomed to.

The stadium seating in these theaters is very recognizably prevalent with the slope, I would guess, being along a nearly 45 degree angle, rather than the more sharp (and again, I’m guessing here) vertigo inducing 70 degree angle in other IMAX theaters.

The real gem here, though, is the sound and picture quality. Most people may not necessarily notice, but as an avid and consistent film-goer, I immediately appreciated the incredibly crisp visuals and totally immersive sound quality.

In many scenes, the images pop off the screen with such intensity that you can almost feel like you are a part of the movie. The sound completely envelopes you and draws you into the action in conjunction with the visuals.

But in reality, this is not much different from the 3-D technology that we’ve grown used to in recent years. Refractive lenses have replaced the cheesy blue and red glasses of the old 3-D era. And today, nearly half of everything produced in Tinseltown has a 3-D variant, thus dulling the novelty.

In the coming weeks, visitors will be able to see the new Hunger Games and the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy here. And in the future, I’m sure we’ll be able to revel in the delights of hundreds of blockbusters like new Marvel movies and the highly anticipated next Star Wars chapter in 2015.

In this particular theater, moviegoers have a choice of which IMAX experience to enjoy. There are two options. One is true IMAX with 375 seats and the incredible sound and picture quality I mentioned here. The other is called the Regal Premium Experience (RPX) which offers 309 comfortable all-leather seats but can also show ANY movie, not just those produced specifically for IMAX, so the picture and sound quality won’t be quite as eye and ear popping.

Is it worth the difference to see a movie in IMAX over 3-D? I leave that to your discretion. The visuals and sound notwithstanding, the experience is very similar. But if you have an appreciation for sound and picture quality, you will want to try it at least once.

And if you get motion sick, this experience will definitely be easier to take than traditional IMAX. There’s no possibility of falling to your doom here. Just make sure the patron in front of you has some decent padding and you’re good to go.

Dim the lights, pass the popcorn and I’ll see you at the IMAX theater.

Have you ever been to a traditional IMAX (steep slope seating with concave screen) theater?

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Have you been to a newer commercial IMAX theater?

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Which IMAX version do you prefer?

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How do you prefer to see movies?

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