Discuss: With 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' Going IMAX, Is The Format Becoming The New 3D?

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by Oliver Lyttelton
August 15, 2012 2:08 PM
8 Comments
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Update: Well, wasn't this rather prescient. Just a few hours after we wrote this story. Steven Spielberg announced in an interview that he was considering shooting his next film, "Robopocalypse," in IMAX.

There has been something of a trend recently for re-releasing older fare in 3D, with Disney and Pixar movies, "Titanic," "Star Wars" and, next summer, "Jurassic Park" and "Independence Day" all getting the treatment. It's the new-money-for-old-rope-approach to the movies, and while these aren't guaranteed phenomenons (although "Titanic" did extraordinarily well internationally, especially in China, and "The Lion King" topped the box office in the U.S. last fall), they've been something of a no-brainer so far, allowing studios to get many millions of dollars through fairly minimal effort.

But today brings news that perhaps the greatest action-adventure movie of at least the last forty years, Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark," is getting a one-week-only re-release on September 7th ahead of its Blu-ray release later in the month -- not in 3D, but on 70mm IMAX. It's a format personally approved by Spielberg, who told the New York Times, "It’s the only marked contrast we have to the generations that are seeing our movies on phones and hand-held platforms. It’s a complete relief to be able to see a film that many people have just experienced on a palm-sized platform technology, suddenly hurled at that them on an Imax-sized screen." Given it's arriving during the generally quiet period of early September (it's about the same time that "The Lion King" did extremely well in 2011), we imagine it'll make a whole bunch of money.

And it's certainly on-trend at the moment. Both "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" and "The Dark Knight Rises" (like its predecessor, "The Dark Knight") featured extensive scenes not only shown in, but also filmed, in IMAX. Next year, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" and "Star Trek 2" will do the same thing. Most major blockbusters this year have been shown in the format, and even the arthouses are getting in on the act, with Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" being shot mostly on 70mm film (not IMAX, but still a grand occasion), the first major release to do so since Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" in 1996.

And we wonder if it might suggest a turning of the tide to some degree. Eleven of the top 20 grossers of the year so far have been in 3D -- twelve internationally, including "Battleship" -- but only one of the three movies that have taken more than $250 million domestically was in 3D ("The Hunger Games" and "The Dark Knight Rises" were both in 2D -- but were in IMAX). And while 3D continues to boost takings, there continue to be signs that the format is being actively rejected by audiences: only 44% of the opening weekend gross for "The Amazing Spider-Man" came from 3D screens, and despite 70% of screens showing "Ice Age: Continental Drift" being in 3D, a terrible 35% of audiences actually bought tickets in the format.

By contrast, there are just as many IMAX films as 3D pictures in the top 20 grossers, and while only 7% of screens showing "The Amazing Spider-Man" were in IMAX, 10% of the gross came from those theaters. Similarly, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" made a spectacular $12.8 million from IMAX screenings on only 300 theaters in a limited rollout just before it went wide, making it the third biggest-grossing movie in the country that weekend on a fraction of the screens of its competition. So the question becomes: is IMAX going to outlast 3D?

The benefit that 3D cinema brought, when revitalized by James Cameron's "Avatar" (which also showed on IMAX), was that it made moviegoing feel like an event again. But with 3D pictures coming out seemingly every other weekend, it's now just another part of the moviegoing experience. And as such, the irritations -- poor projection, cheap conversions, having to wear glasses, the inflated prices -- are becoming greater. Meanwhile, IMAX releases, and especially those like "The Dark Knight Rises" that take full advantage of the format, are still fairly rare. And there's something about the sheer size of the experience (including the rattling sound), that makes it feel more and more like a real moviegoing experience.

As such, it has the gross-inflating advantages of 3D, but for the most part, without the negative connotations. And a one-week-only release of a film like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" seems to make perfect sense; it'll raise awareness of the film's Blu-ray release, and the studio get to make another ten million dollars or so. And although Spielberg says he has no further plans for something like this, we can certainly see it becoming more and more common in future.

Of course, there are risks. Like with 3D, most IMAX releases are not "true" IMAX releases, but have been digitally converted to fit most (but not all) of the screens. And even worse, many IMAX theaters aren't true IMAX theaters either, using the brand on smaller, digital screens, which increasingly risks harming the reputation of the format in general. And of course, as with 3D, the more films hit in the format, the less special it'll become, and the less it'll feel like something special.

3D isn't going away any time soon, but it certainly seems to be following the same peaks and troughs that it has in its previous revivals in the 1950s and 1980s. IMAX (which is, it should be said, partially tied to 3D), meanwhile, has only become more and more popular since "The Polar Express" pioneered the modern use of the format in studio films nearly a decade ago, and we suspect it's going to be around for a little longer. But what do you think? Is IMAX the real format of the future, or are you on team 3D? Or is it all just a temporary measure caused by the movie industry's fear of Internet piracy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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8 Comments

  • Wes Candela | August 16, 2012 10:13 PMReply

    Playlist 70mm discussion

    IMAX and 3D are not in the same arena in my mind. One is all about size, the other is about depth. 

    Both are rarely done correctly.    When they are, the results are fantastic in my opinion. 

    When they are done correctly. 

    One issue I have, as i could discuss this for a few days as I'm sure most of you all could, is the over saturation of the imposter technology. Meaning, the abuse of the terms " See it in 3D and IMAX"

    The fact is, most of what's out there now, are not what they claim to be.

    Many films advertise this 3-D are not truly shot in 3-D they are turned into 3-D after they've been shot in 2-D which gives a subpar results when viewed on the screen. 

    Same with IMAX. True IMAX films are difficult to shoot. Only a handful of people have done it. 

    But from the advertising, you'd think almost all of the new films coming out have been shot in IMAX. 

    The lack  of creativity in Hollywood is the true issue now. 


    Many of the 3D Movies are shot into the digital or film and then they are converted into 3-D before they go to the theaters seem with IMAX IMAX films are shot on 35mm film were digitally and that are blown up and cropped to fit the IMAX screen this is a far mcry from shooting the film in end with IMAX cameras do yield the full.  are shot in with digital 2D or lllkkfilm and needs to be fjndieweeeb movies no

    Resolution

    tibvrb and i mean almost all the films that areand ....labeling products that are not truly "IMAX" shot films as "IMAX", and labeling films not shot in 3D as "3D". This is misinformation. I've argues this with some very smart people who don't know the difference between what Nolan  did with "THE DARK KNIGHT RISES" and what Cameron did with "AVATAR", creating genuine IMAX  and 3D films, the difference between those and say the new "CLASH OF THE  TITANS" which was shot of "THE AVENGERS" which my film buff cousin swore was shot in 3D because it had been advertised as being in 3d. 

    So what I'm saying is, there is a lot misinformation out about both formats. 

    And if you had to choose between one or the  other, I'd say IMAX is the format that will last. 

    However my prediction will be that new films in the future will be shot on digital IMAX cameras.  

    Film is fading. Fast.

  • guest | August 16, 2012 6:21 PMReply

    i hope they run with imax/70mm as the "new 3d." it definitely has more potential to save theaters than 3D does... 3d movies make them feel smaller, it condenses the image and only rarely brought me deeper into the world of the film. with IMAX, true IMAX atleast, it's the most immersive and awe-inspiring way to view a film. Just like cinemerama and drive-ins of the past, selling the theatrical Experience by way of spectacle is kind of all the theaters have going for them... and air conditioning. At least speaking for myself, this is a primary reason I go to the theater.

    The thing that still baffles me is why does IMAX allow theaters to fake out audiences with the smaller screens? I'm amazed so many people are still unaware of this.

  • Max | August 16, 2012 12:09 AMReply

    This is not a 70mm presentation. It is a conversion to digital IMAX only and will not be playing in any theaters (i.e. real IMAX theaters) that use actual film and project in 70mm. A total waste and a completely misleading cash-in. Spielberg had a nice, earnest interview in the Times today and this was not mentioned. If you check every legitimate IMAX theatre in the country against the list of theaters playing Raiders, you'll see that none of them are. Pathetic.

  • James | August 17, 2012 1:24 AM

    That would explain why it's not at the Universal Citywalk. What a cheap money-grab.

  • James | August 15, 2012 9:34 PMReply

    No go for me. I checked online. It's exclusively at AMC Theaters. Most of their "IMAX" screens are those faux-IMAX converted multiplex halls.

    The only legit IMAX screens in LA are The Rave in Marina del Rey and the AMC Universal Citywalk.

    For some insane reason, AMC is NOT showing it at the Citywalk. They're only showing it at a bunch of their local multiplexes.

    No way I'm spending $20 to see this on a normal sized screen. I've seen it in theaters before. The huge IMAX screen was the selling point for me. Oh well.

  • max | August 15, 2012 4:49 PMReply

    I am all about IMAX/70mm as a presentation. It truly is a fantastic way to see films. The picture quality is extraordinary, the sound is incredible, and all presented on an enormous, larger-than-life screen. THAT is what truly separates the theatrical experience from watching a film on a television or in a home theatre.
    Growing up in the 80s, I can remember getting excited when looking at the Friday newspaper ads for films opening that day and seeing the notice below the ad, saying "Presented in 70mm!". I KNEW that I was going to be in for an amazing experience. I also remember, back in the early 90s, going to a local $1 Theatre and seeing a double feature of ALIEN and ALIENS (for a buck, obviously!) and realizing when I sat down that both films were to be presented in 70mm. And despite the fact that the prints were from the film's release year (I know this because original trailers from the years 1979 and 1986 were still attached to the head of the feature) the picture and sound quality were still absolutely stunning! No fading, scratching, or garbled sound. A perfect picture. So to this day I still prefer to see films in an over-sized format, whether it be 70mm, Cinerama, or IMAX.
    And, as long as great care is taken in the upgrading process, I have no problem with older films being re-released in the IMAX format. For one thing, a frame of 35mm film can hold a lot of picture and color information, so the picture quality won't suffer when being blown up to 70mm. Also, today's technology will allow for the fixing of minor imperfections.
    But really what is best about re-releasing older films in IMAX is that audiences get to see films in the setting they were designed for - over-sized movie theatres. That is an experience that cannot be duplicated at home.

  • Katie Walsh | August 15, 2012 4:26 PMReply

    I usually do not give less than a fuck about stuff like this. But "Raiders" in IMAX will be the best thing in life for 8 year old me.

  • Xian | August 15, 2012 2:32 PMReply

    Time to convert "Clash of the Titans" from its 3D conversion to IMAX, don'tcha think ;P

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