Hong Kong’s IMAX solitude

Alright, 2 days to go till the Batman rises upon HK theater screens. There has been a considerable debate yesterday on UA Cinema’s Facebook page about a post where the company advertises the IMAX 70mm image size compare to a regular 35mm print. Just in time for the big scam, UA is now running 3 IMAX screens in this city. But why did this post create such a discussion? A discussion that goes on for quite a while now. Simply because of 2 points:

1) There is NO 70mm IMAX projection in HK, whatsoever!

2) IMAX tickets are far more expensive, double or even more.

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(source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150952491412756&set=a.102366122755.92559.46446727755&type=1 )

But let’s get some perspective here. I compiled a couple of links, videos and background intel to give you the full picture:

1) LieMAX

HK got 4 IMAX screens, 3 of them are operated by UA.

a) HK Space Museum (an old form of a half-sphere OMNIMAX projection system from which IMAX started off, some decades ago)

b) UA MegaBox IMAX

c) UA  iSquare IMAX

d) UA Airport IMAX (recently opened and formerly known as the 4D Extreme Screen)

Now, all of the UA screens run on digital IMAX which is basically two times 2K projectors, giving you a 2K image ultimately. Variations are only in screen size of each theater and seat numbers. This blog entry provides a good comparison chart between the screen sizes and how the HK screens are compared to the IMAX in Taipei and Sydney. It gets even more frightening when you compare it to the mega screens in India or the US.

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You will notice the aspect ratio change between the yellow and red on the left and the blue, violet and green on the right. MegaBox was the first IMAX screen in HK that was not a half-sphere and hence was erected under the “old” IMAX standards with a screen aspect ratio around 1.43:1 while the newer screens follow the recent standards and go for a more widescreen-like aspect ratio of about 1.89:1.

Those new IMAX standards came into action when the company realized it could convert every Hollywood blockbuster with a blow-up treatment into their IMAX formats. This procedure is called IMAX DMR and provides its devoted audience with a mostly blurry experience. Since those DMR versions are all sourced from standard cinemascope movies the new IMAX screen sizes go for a wider aspect ratio. However, this would mean a movie that was actually shot in IMAX 70mm format (yes, that would refer to DARK KNIGHT & DARK KNIGHT RISES) and hence got a 1.43:1 aspect ratio would need to be projected either cropped on top and bottom to fill the screen or simply shown much smaller with blank space on the sides. Either way, why would you want to go for an IMAX screening when you essentially just get projected a framing nightmare? Especially in a movie like the new Batman that swaps between aspect ratios throughout.

It gets worse for HK audiences. As mentioned above, all IMAX screens run on a digital 2K projection. There are no 70mm prints as UA advertises. A 70mm print would equal a digital resolution of about 11-12K when scanning the original negative. In fact it is said that IMAX might actually accumulate to a real resolution of about 18K, only there are no digital scanners that go beyond 11K yet. So what happened to the other 9K of finest viewing experience that you can only get at an IMAX theater??? Well, it’s simply lost within the nasty sinkholes of economic downsizing in favor for the “benefits” of digital projection.

Let’s put that into a perspective for non-IMAX screens. Most digital screens in HK also run on 2K, but 4K is catching up quite fast. The Grand, The One or MCL JP got already a couple of 4K screens. Industry standard is, a 35mm print would equal a digital resolution of around 4K. (More on why 4K is relevant in Sony’s legendary white paper.)

However, keep your joy restrained, don’t think you could opt out and go for a 4K screening of DARK KNIGHT RISES. Warner HK only distributes the film in crisp 2K all over the city. Resolution-wise, you’re left in the dark eventually.

(watch how real 70mm IMAX prints get loaded, you won’t be able to see this in HK anymore.)

2) Ticket price explosion

So when you thought the technical aspects of your DARK KNIGHT RISES viewing options in HK are a desperate format dessert than your brain will fry when you look at your ticket pricing options. At this moment the IMAX pricing via online pre-booking won’t come below HK$ 100. And keep in mind, this is NO 3D film, it’s simple 2D on a slightly bigger screen with a projection system that shows you half the resolution than other screens in HK.

Morning show

Regular show

UA MegaBox IMAX

HK$ 100

HK$ 120

UA  iSquare IMAX

HK$ 120

HK$ 140

UA Airport IMAX

HK$ 100

HK$ 120

 (source: http://www.uacinemas.com.hk)

You will notice iSquare is the most ruthless of them all. When we compare a regular 2K screening, also at UA iSquare cinema then we have the following price range:

morning show: HK$ 60

noon shows: HK$ 85

afternoon/night shows: HK$90

Thursday midnight special: HK$50

(source: http://www.uacinemas.com.hk)

Average ticket prices of HK$ 60-70 for a night show are becoming  a rare miracle. Mostly local films are getting granted this honor. The cinemas and distributors always find ways to charge a little more and a little more and a little more. When you recently bought a ticket for AVENGERS you will know the pain your wallet endures. Here, it was even worse. Some cinemas charged up to HK$ 5 more on a regular screening than the most expensive IMAX DMR ticket cost.

I found my old tickets from the DARK KNIGHT screenings back in 2008. Back then, there was only 1 IMAX screen (MegaBox) and it ran on a 70mm projection. The experience seeing the opening sequence blasting into my eyes with this full 70mm IMAX projection was breathtaking and no movie moment came close to this, ever!

Img_5279

(left: DARK KNIGHT RISES ticket, originally HK$ 140 but down to HK$126 due to membership concessions. right: DARK KNIGHT tickets from 2008)

 Also, in 2008 there was not that much DMR conversion going on and the screen had to be filled somehow, which made UA re-run DARK KNIGHT in September after its original release. On top, UA applied a pricing policy that would make the tickets shrink from the original price of HK$ 85 to HK$ 50. I haven’t seen UA running this pricing model ever again since the spring of 2009 and I don’t think we’ll see it this summer with Batman either.

I also remembered back in December 2009 when the new iSquare IMAX opened with AVATAR the most expensive ticket in town came in at HK$ 140 and that film was 3D!

Some more readings:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/movies/how-the-dark-knight-rises-makes-use-of-imax.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMAX

venues with 70mm projection of DARK KNIGHT RISES: http://www.thedarkknightrises.com/imax.html

2 thoughts on “Hong Kong’s IMAX solitude

  1. Great and informative article. Was looking for a cinema that would give justice to interstellar but after reading this there doesn’t seem to be one. What a shame. Would you recommend any other thertre to watch interstellar or are they all going to be the same?

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