MIssed it! The 45th anniversary of IMAX’s debut at the Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, which took place on the 15th May 1970. That’s right, the all be it unknown IMAX short, Tiger’s Child (1970) premiered at the show, the year before the first permanent installation was opened to the public.
IMAX has come along way since then…
Throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, as the format grew, it was obscure and mainly used in venues such as theme part and other attractions. It wasn’t until the summer 1993, that I was introduced to the big screen format at Bradford’s Film Museum. The IMAX screen with its viewable projection booth was opened that year, along with Pictureville theatre, the U.K.’s only Cinerama screen left in the country.
That year, I only saw Cinerama which had quite an impact in me and it would not be for another ten years until I would take a seat at an IMAX movie. Ghost Of The Abyss 3D (2003) was showing in Manchester’s Printworks cinema and after work in 2003, I sat down for the first time to watch a 3D IMAX feature. My interest in 3D was destined to begin that day.
Not in this country (U.K.), but in the U.S., 2002 saw the birth of DNR, the remastering process which would allow traditional movies to be reformatted for the high-resolution IMAX screen. The first such films were Star Wars: Episode II: Attack Of The Clones (2002) and Apollo 13 (1995). The IMAX version, which is 25 minutes shorter than the theatrical release to accommodate the size of the IMAX film platters, is available on the Region 1 DVD from around that time as a special feature, but no such 1.44:1 or 1.77:1 aspect ratio formatted releases of Star Wars: Episode II have been released so far.
As the DNR process progressed, several mainstream films were given IMAX releases and in some cases, the 3D treatment. Superman Returns (2006), and the Fifth and Sixth Harry Potter films all had segments presented in 3D, even though the films themselves, were originally shot in 2D.
Nowadays though, most blockbusters receive an IMAX release even though IMAX isn’t what it used to be.
IMAX was originally a 15 perf, 70mm format, providing a much higher standard than traditional film. This allowed the image to be projected onto an eight story screen and the sound system was rated at 50,000 watts, enough to blow out a candle! But as the format has evolved into the 3D and digital era, which I can understand, it has also shrunk. The screens are not standardised and in turn, are no longer as big. The term IMAX is becoming a brand name rather than reliable, large screen format.
Also, because of the trend on remastering existing films, which are often shot in an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, compared to the IMAX ratio of 1.44:1, the films are designed to open up from a standard ratio of 1:77:1 (I think) to the a full screen (1:44:1) for certain scenes. This is a reflected on some Blu-rays such as The Dark Knight (2008) by opening up 2.39:1 – 1.77:1 in order to fill the widescreen TV frame.
And it works. It looks good but it also means that you are paying for just two thirds of the screen for half the movie. This is not IMAX. And Christopher Nolan, who is great advocate of the format, especially in using the 70mm FILM as well, also gets it wrong. His over use of bass in latest IMAX print of Interstellar (2014) was unforgivable, sounding like the cast had to speak over a jack-hammer at times!
All in all, IMAX was supposed to be a large scale, loud, immersive experience and it WAS. Early films such as Hail Columbia! (1981), which carries more poignancy now after the 2002 tragedy and the Academy Award nominated Fire Of Kuwait (1992) demonstrate the presence of IMAX, both documentaries running around 35 minutes each. James Cameron’s Ghost’s Of The Abyss 3D (2003) was 60 minutes long theatrically, 90 in 2D on DVD and was clear demonstration of the possibilities of 3D and the scale of popular subjects on this scale but even that wasn’t wonderful.
All in all, IMAX is the last bastion of grandiose cinema. Cinerama opened the door to this kind of format, but that too failed once it compromised itself for a mass market. IMAX is doing the same. In many respects TRUE IMAX has been and gone, and we are left with the name and the ideas only. The digital image is not IMAX, any more than a film made in the 2.39:1 format is Cinema-scope.
I do hope that the format can continue and that instead of resting on its laurels and selling out, that IMAX finds a way to grow and do something with DLP Projection that traditional cinema has yet to achieve. 3D without the glasses perhaps?