Thursday, July 27, 2006

Superman Returns at the IMAX Dome: A Most Uncomfortable Experience

This past weekend, I saw my first move, Superman Returns, at the Hackworth IMAX Dome Theater at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA. Now, that's a super-sentence.

I'm a big fan of IMAX and the IMAX Experience. The more immersive the movie-going experience, the more I enjoy it.

So, why see Superman Returns in IMAX format? This document shows why IMAX format (15/70mm) is better then that old, crusty 35mm format. Yeah, I get that - more bits is better. Sure. But, when displayed on the Dome screen, it's just too wide. When text is displayed across the widescreen movie (think beginning of Star Wars), you had to literally move your head through 180 degrees of motion to read each line. Ugh. Something was lost in the translation to the Dome. It's not a viable experience for a widescreen aspect ration movie. Regular IMAX (without the Dome) - absolutely! I'll save the Dome for star-gazing or for films built for the Dome (not widescreen).

Finally, unless you can get there very early and wait in line (it's all General Admission), you will not get a seat that is both high up and in the center. These are absolute requirements for watching a letterbox movie at the Dome. We ended up about half-way up and halfway to the left. We had to basically lay flat in the seat and cram our necks up to see the images. Not good. The two best seats in the house are directly in the center, behind the projector, second row from the top. They even have extra leg room. Get those and you're golden. Miss those and you'll want to be as high and as close to center as possible (so, get there early and pay your dues waiting!).

What I liked about it:

  • The sound system of the IMAX Dome was phenomenal (a mere 13,000 watts of wrap-around digital surround sound)

  • The movie itself was pretty good (and I would recommend it), even though the scene where Superman was man-handling the kryptonite rock didn't seem believable (did I just say that?)

What I didn't like about it:

  • Extremely uncomfortable, due to the Dome shape of this particular IMAX theater

  • You could actually see the seams of the IMAX Dome when the background image on the screen went white or light blue - completely losing the illusion of immersion that IMAX is trying to give you

  • The Dome caused the images to warp if they were sufficiently far to your left or right - also not good for the illusion of immersion

  • It's just too expensive at $13/ticket given the very limited number of seats that would be good and comfortable.

Enjoy the show!

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