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Cinema in the Round: The World's First 270-Degree Movie

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire October 28, 2013 at 4:31PM

A new format called ScreenX promises images that envelop viewers on all sides. But how easy is it to watch?
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On the 270-degree set of 'The X'
On the 270-degree set of 'The X'

Variety's Maggie Lee has filed the first English-language review of The X, a 30-minute spy thriller filmed in a new format called ScreenX, whose 270-degree screens envelop its audience in every direction. Directed by Kim Jee-Woon (The Last StandI Saw the Devil) and first exhibited at the Busan International Film Festival, the film, is, according to Lee, "like a roller-coaster ride that goes through its loops so fast, one needs to try it a few more times to register its sensations."

According to the Wall Street Journal, 40 screens in 22 South Korean cinemas have already been converted for ScreenX, at a cost of between $140 and $180 thousand per screen. (The X, which runs 30 minutes, cost $900 thousand to shoot, much of which was spent on figuring out how to arrange equipment and on-set personnel without them getting in the frame.) According to Lee, some of the kinks are still being worked out:

The format is best at conveying the sensation of moving ahead, such as in tracking shots through corridors and tunnels; a climactic burst of fireworks also looks spectacular. All setpieces run for about a minute, the longest the human eye can endure 270-degree vision, per research. Compared with the depth of field achieved, ScreenX cannot provide corresponding spatial breadth. Images that are too complex, such as one of Finger’s high-tech switchboard, can cause eyestrain when stretched across three screens. The biggest problem is not knowing where to look; by the time your eyes have found what to focus on, the image has dissolved.

Although the Journal post doesn't go into details, it's safe to assume the impetus behind ScreenX is the same as that behind 3D, IMAX and other enhanced formats, which seeks to provide an in-theater experience that can't be bootlegged or duplicate at home. But given that Kim says shooting The X was "like hell and a nightmare," the real trick may be finding directors to take the plunge.

This article is related to: From the Wire, Kim Jee-woon


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