CINEMA TECH                                                  FILM VS DIGITAL  SPECIALTY/BIGSCREEN FORMATS   FORUM


In my early days of gaining awareness of the movie business, I noticed that there were people referred to as Movie Reviewers and others called Movie Critics.  I took perhaps a bit more literal meaning of those words, especially as I began to realize what critics can do to a film...

It seemed to me that Movie Critics would be more useful during production of a film, where their feedback had a chance of making a constructive contribution, while, after the fact, they could only pan a film and kill it.  This was just their own opinion after all, which, in many cases, I heartily disagreed with.  Add to that the tendency of some "critics" to take cheap shots at easy targets just to make themselves look clever.

Reviewers, I thought, would be more helpful by simply talking about what kind of movie it was, the subject matter, and indicating, without too much opinion, that if you liked a certain type of movie, you might like this one, too.  Naive of me, I know, but ideologically, that's how I've always thought it should be. 

My opinion of critics changed a bit when Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert began debating and discussing the merits of a film, going into specific details, and often agreeing to disagree.  I was also very impressed by their tendency to champion lesser known films they thought worthy of notice.  (Case in point: THE TALL GUY, which I had in fact overlooked, though it was playing only a block away.  From S&E's recommendation, and an interest in the subject matter, I ended up going twice, it's become an all-time favorite, and I bought the VHS and DVD - thanks, Roger and Gene!)

Where do I fall in all of this: I am disinclined to tell anyone to avoid any movie, and can only recount my own subjective experience, which should focus more on the Presentation and the Experience than the movie itself.  Keep that in mind, as I give you my very candid account of a press screening of the new STAR TREK at the Universal City Imax.  My own experience, from where I sat (quite literally, in this case) It is likely to differ from yours. 

I should also point out that I am the last person on earth who would ever go to a film like a Star Trek, Terminator, Transformer, Pirates, or anything else that relies heavily on noise, action and violence.  I went because a friend wanted to go, and I figured, well, how bad can it be?

Universal Citywalk Imax: I'm not particularly fond of this venue overall, especially after the Chuck. E. Cheesy makeover of the previously elegant lobby and common areas, though the revamp inside the screening rooms features an attractive burgundy/grey theme and cushy, lumbar-supporting seats (waaaay more comfortable than the upholstered-rock seats at ArcLight).

Universal's Imax auditorium, (wedged into a very tight space between the building's two wings, in the footprint of what was originally a nice cafe) feels cramped, compared to other Imax venues ("ahemTheBridgecough") and has all the warmth and ambience of an industrial basement.  As for presentation, well I did enjoy MONSTERS VS ALIENS 3D when they screened it there... but it had a LOT to do with where I sat... 

It's obviously no coincidence that I firmly believe SIGHTLINES play an important part in the moviegoing experience. I am most comfortable being eye-level with the middle of the screen, and the only place this is possible in a standard Imax venue (and most stadium plexes) is the top row. The typical Imax venue (where the top row is level to the middle of the screen height) places about 75% of the audience at the bottom of the screen.

I can't speak yet about the other Imax venues, but at the Universal City Imax, all the seats are fixed into a straight-up position, which puts people closer to the bottom at a real disadvantage.  You need to lean back to see the full screen (and be comfortable), but these seats don't lean back at all.  You're stuck sitting bolt-upright, aiming your natural sightline straight ahead to the bottom of the screen.  This forces you to slide waaay down in your seat, or tilt your head back to an uncomfortable degree.  

The cramped footprint of this auditorium also places the screen too close, and the front seats are exceptionally, uncomfortably close.  I am shocked at what seems to be a total disregard for proper, or even comfortable, sightlines.  In this case, it's as if they figure all the seats face the big screen and that's enough.

Being that this new STAR TREK is a much anticipated movie, the seats at this screening filled up quicker than usual, and unfortunately we ended up only about 4-5 rows from the front/bottom. 

STAR TREK, as shown here, was reduced from its 2.35:1 aspect ratio to about 1.85:1 or 1.66:1.  There was, thankfully, a little blank space above and below the picture, but, jeez, that thing was RIGHT UP IN YOUR FACE, and very, very loud!  Through the entire film, because the screen was SO close, I was desperate to back away, but the seats won't allow it.  

There is so much hyper-action in this movie, it's like holding up a huge extra-bright spinning kaleidoscope about 2 feet from your face... (check back after I come up with a better way to express that).  I eventually had to remove my glasses, because it was hurting my eyes and making me nauseous.  And the sound...

How to describe the sound?  If you built a 6 foot square metal cube, filled it with hammers, nails, plumbing fixtures and some broken glass, put a few microphones inside, and pushed it down about forty flights of stairs... then magnified the sound by about a hundred... well you get the idea.  It's a great commercial for Excedrin, which they should sell in the lobby.

My overall experience: For what had to be at least two hours, I found the huge, bright picture, with almost relentless dizzying action, heavy-metal-concert-like, extremely loud sound, and cramped, way-too-GD-close, fixed upright seating position, absolutely torturous... but that was just me.

The Movie Itself... Note to actors: if they are going to blow your face up so big that every clogged pore will be the size of a volleyball, you might want to consider getting a facial before they shoot, because it seems Mr. Pine's makeup, if he was wearing any, couldn't cover any of that.  His face looked like a Georges Seurat painting - in his many closeups, it was hard to see the whole face for all the big dots.  Mr. Quinto seemed to either have a better complexion or better coverage from the Spockface makeup. 

Here's where you must begin to separate my opinion from what yours would be.  I'm sure if I were a teenage boy, a trekkie (or trekker?), I'd have been thrilled, but when I wasn't scrunched down covering my face, I couldn't help but notice how much of what I saw was openly borrowed from other genre films. (Though I have only the slightest awareness of these movies) The opening: pure SUPERMAN, the end, total STAR WARS #4.  A Cantina scene with similar creatures, a Yoda/Ewok crossbred cousin, a Khan/Zod... then Uhura's roommate inexplicably wanders in from the touring company of WICKED.  

To be fair, I'm aware that a movie that follows a formula, if done well, can be just as entertaining.  (I could easily run down a list of formulaic romantic comedies that are the cinematic equivalent of comfort food for me)  Even from my odd perspective, I noticed that STAR TREK has an attractive and appealing cast, who all seemed to be doing a good job, and the sets and effects were quite impressive.  I'm sure it all looks much better from a reasonable distance.  It's just that this kind of movie wasn't made for me.  Fair enough?  So...

My friend was enthralled throughout, said it was "SO Classic STAR TREK..." he happily picked up on numerous references, in-jokes and some casting choices that were put there for the fans, so I'm sure it'll make buckets of money.  I'm also pretty sure that if this franchise and genre appeals to you, you will probably LOVE this new STAR TREK, so make your decision to go based on your own level of interest...

However, if you see it in IMAX, particularly at Universal City, sit towards the back, bring earplugs, don't eat first, and maybe try to forget all the other sci-fi or superhero films you've ever seen. 

Much has been written lately about the newer (and fraction of the regular size) IMAX Digital screens that the company refuses to differentiate from the big ones.  One of the online illustrations showing the differences, refers only to two specific cinemas, and I can tell you that the digital screens get much smaller than that.  AMC plexes, at least the newer ones, seem to all be built with square (not wide) auditoriums (like Century City 15) which means that the screens have top-masking, (a really BAD idea) making widescreen movies smaller than the regular 1.85:1.  In the AMC rooms, those movies look more like 1:66:1, which is nowhere near as wide as the illustration going around the net. 

If you go to one of those rooms converted to Imax Jr or MiniMax in a multiplex, keep in mind that those screens can't be much bigger than the regular screens in the same venue, (and usually are practically the same size) and the only difference would be that the screen is closer to the seats and the frame is not as wide.  The picture may be sharper or pixelated, depending on varied reports, and the sound may be better... but don't expect IMAX to mean BIG anymore.

As I've said, I really enjoyed MOSTERS VS ALIENS in Imax 3D, (from the last row).  I am looking forward to NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, HARRY POTTER, CHRISTMAS CAROL, AVATAR, and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON...  I just hope they're not all screened at Universal, and If they are, know I'd better get there early enough to sit up top in the last row!

- Garan Grey