A few years ago, the movie industry was in deep doo-doo. Their profits were eroding, mainly because people figured out how much easier (and cheaper) it was to download illegal copies of movies rather than paying to see them in the theatre or buying the DVD. While the movie industry hasn’t fully recovered from this, I think they’re on their way, thanks to a few different innovations.
IMAX is nothing new – science museums around the world have been showing IMAX movies since the 1970s – indeed, I remember as a little kid some twenty years ago seeing theatres at the OMNI theatre at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. That one is an ‘OMNIMAX’, or domed IMAX, where the film is shown through a fish-eye lens on a domed screen. It’s quite intense. Unfortunately, until recently, most IMAX movies were short documentaries, thanks to the expense and hassle of the IMAX filming process.
Lately, though, more multiplex theatres have been outfitted with an IMAX-capable projector and screen. IMAX movies are higher quality and have superior sound than traditional movies, and are typically movies with lots of special effects. Recent examples include The Dark Knight, Avatar, Inception, and TRON: Legacy.
3D is also nothing new, though the technology has recently been improved drastically (and unfortunately, consumer-ized – more on that in a moment). 3D movies have been around at least since the 1950s, with moviegoers wearing the well-known blue and red lensed glasses. Obviously this was a rather poor experience, so we’ve finally moved on to a new method of 3D, called polarization. I won’t pretend to understand it all – you can read a full comparison here. The difference is that today’s 3D glasses are a dark grey filter, and feel much more relaxing and comfortable to the eye.
Without getting into the science of it all, there are 2 ways to film a 3D movie – you can film the movie with 3D ingrained, baked right in from the get-go, while recording, or you can add the various 3D effects during post-production, essentially as an afterthought.
Why It Matters
Both 3D and IMAX are great ways for the movie industry to innovate and give consumers a reason to pay the extortionary prices for a movie theatre ticket. I watch a TON of movies through the year, thanks to a variety of mediums. However, my wife and I only see movies at the theatre perhaps 4 times per year, if that. I can only imagine having kids, which increases the costs significantly.
The movies we do see, though, are ones where you really have to experience the movie. I can watch something like Dinner for Schmucks at home and not really miss much. However, when I watch Avatar at home, it’s significantly different from when I saw it in IMAX 3D at the theatre – it’s an inferior experience, and I am keenly aware of that. The same goes for Inception, and I’m sure when I see TRON: Legacy for the hundredth time in my livingroom, it will never be the same as when I saw it at the movie in IMAX and 3D.
It’s interesting to see how the music industry and the movie industry have reacted to their digital situations. The music industry has sunk to the lows of suing their own customers. Think about that for a few seconds. The music industry also hasn’t given me a reason to buy a CD (or any other of their products) in a long, long time. The movie industry still fights piracy – that’s a fact that can’t be ignored. However, they’re fighting it with innovations such as improving the movie-going experience with IMAX and 3D.
Don’t get me wrong – there are some movies that don’t really need to be in 3D (pretty much anything animated, in my opinion), and there are some movies where it’s quite obvious that the 3D effects were tacked on later, just like the $3-4 surcharge the theatre tacks on for the privilege of wearing those goofy glasses for a few hours. However, the movie industry is trying, and I think that’s what counts.
If you think movies are better enjoyed at home, go see TRON: Legacy at a matinee (before the whipper-snappers wake up and sit through the movie with their cell phones and such). I honestly wouldn’t mind if the 3D glasses had blinders on them so you literally couldn’t see anything but the screen.