When The Hobbit opens next week, you’ll have a fairly absurd number of options in determining how you can see – 2D, 3D, HFR 3D, plain old 35mm film, the list goes on. If IMAX is your bag though, you might want to think twice about your choice of theater before picking up your midnight tickets.
Nowadays, it seems like every multiplex is adding an IMAX screen, yet the only real IMAX in the city (that isn’t part of a science museum) is still the AMC Loews on 68th St. – Lincoln Square. The frustrating thing is, despite ticket prices being exactly the same, the IMAX screen at (for instance) Kips Bay is about a quarter of the size of the one at Lincoln Square. Yet if you check Fandango or other online ticketing sites, there’s no delineation whatsoever between real IMAX and, as it’s been dubbed, Lie-MAX.
This all started about four years ago, after The Dark Knight broke box office records on normal and IMAX screens alike. With its inflated ticket prices for relatively little upkeep, the major movie theater chains began to realize just how highly profitable IMAX could be, with one major caveat – IMAX screens are really, really big, and as such, it’s hard to make room for one in your average multiplex. Subsequently, IMAX Digital was born.
IMAX Digital theaters are retrofitted versions of pre-existing multiplex screens. The screen is expanded from the floor to the ceiling, some speakers are added, and the projection is consistently clean, high-quality digital. All things considered, it’s really not a bad way to watch a movie. But when you’re paying twenty bucks, and you can get a screen of actual IMAX size for the same price, the ruse feels especially deceptive. Added to this, real IMAX screens use 70mm film, which (as anyone who saw The Master in said format can attest) remains the highest quality imaging projection available, as beautiful as 4K digital can look.
It’s because legitimate IMAX is so desirable that sifting through Lie-MAX listings can be particularly irritating, though there’s a few listings that can help you determine which theaters to check out. In the case of The Hobbit too, IMAX really feels like the way to go, with Paramount having recently announced that IMAX prints of the film will be prefaced with nine minutes of footage from the new Star Trek film. (Rumor also has it that exclusive trailers for Man of Steel and Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim will also be attached.) But moreover, it’s a matter of basic principle. If you’re shelling out extra for the most impressing moviegoing experience, do you really want your screen to be Hobbit-size too?