After watching THE DARK KNIGHT RISES two times, both on IMAX, a couple of new points arose and some local observations on the state of IMAX in Hong Kong have to be added to my previous post.
Why do we fall?
First I saw Batman at the brand new IMAX @ Airport . While being caved in to tight seats and little leg room the film unfolded in its digital IMAX 2K glory. I will not go into detail about the film itself and possible interpretations to the story, there are plenty of reviews and blogs out there feasting in those issues already. I’m rather concerned about what Warner HK and UA Cinemas present the local audience and to give you the skinny right away: It’s a disaster!
As I outlined in the previous post, all HK IMAX screens run on digital 2K and use exclusively DMR versions of selected films. Now, I have already seen severe and horrible DMR blow-ups from 35mm on HK IMAX screens. PRINCE OF PERSIA and PIRATES 4 were the worst to date. DARK KNIGHT RISES however, is supposed to be a real IMAX produced film with its 72mins of actual IMAX footage. While those supersized scenes and sequences are almost in presentable image quality the 35mm parts simply fall into the shadows of blurry out-of-focus-ness. Even though the difference in image size between both formats is hardly visible, due to the severely cropped digital IMAX aspect ratio as shown below, you can always tell when an IMAX scenes is up. It’s like putting on your glasses and the world around you sharpens up.
Hold your joy! The IMAX scenes present a tremendous downside when it comes to camera movements. Welcome our new digital friend, the jittering. Most apparent in the wide aerial shots of Gotham’s skyline the entire image starts to deconstruct. One shot, when fighter jets fly across the city the IMAX images vanishes into a mash of colors and abstract forms. Buildings? What buildings? It’s all just digital information displaced. Digital jittering usually appears when shots have too much information to be rendered for the compression codec. Details get either lost or aliased. The result is a jumping image content instead of smooth camera tracks.
But why do we have to deal with such technical issues? Isn’t IMAX supposed to be the most advanced projection system in the world? Don’t we are willing to pay a huge ticket premium to be served with top-notch quality content? So why do I pay more than double a ticket price for Batman when the DVD will be technically more stable than anything shown at a HK IMAX theater?
It gets worse, and yes, this one is for you UA Cinemas. My second viewing was at MegaBox as I wanted to compare how the digital projection deals with the different screen aspect ratios. Airport got the new widescreen standard while MegaBox is still in the original IMAX screen aspect ratio. As expected a large portion of the screen simply remained black at MegaBox. No, the image did not extend to fullscreen like it did 2008 at the DARK KNIGHT shows. What I didn’t expected was a tremendously dirty screen. the entire lower left corner had black stripes and full black areas. See UA, when I want to have a nostalgic cinema experience with a dirty screen I go to the Dynasty!
Then there is something very local to the image, Chinese subtitles. On regular theater screens they are barely noticeable after getting used to. On IMAX they become 1m monsters. Double line subs occupy the entire lower third and during the first act of the film you’ll find them mostly spreading over actors faces.
When it comes to sound, both venues had flawless presentations. MegaBox however, had a far more profound impact on the bass and subwoofers which made the seats rumble and your guts vibrate during action scenes. On this aspect, it was a most immersive experience.
Shadows betray you
All this (except for the sound) is by far not what Christopher Nolan intended and how he wants us to experience his work. HK’s IMAX screens proof digital 2K is inadequate, simply false advertisement and a mere rip-off in ticket prices. But where should you go to see Nolan’s $250million spectacle in real 70mm IMAX projection? Wikipedia holds a list of all IMAX theaters around the globe with indication on what venue still projects in the 15 perf colossus. But be careful, basically every venue with the words “space”, “museum”, “dome” or “science” is most likely an older OMNIMAX screen which will not show feature films. If you have the needed change, catch a flight to Bangkok, Taipei or Seoul, cause that’s the closest real 70mm IMAX projection gets to HK.
I found another screen size comparison of different venues. This time it focuses on IMAX screens in Taiwan in comparison to the Sydney one. Just so you get an idea how IMAX defines its latest generation of giant micro screens within the region. China is seeing quite a lot of those small, newly setup theaters.
Image legend (from top right, going down and to the left):
– Vieshow Big City Hsinchu & IMAX – 17.76m x 9.71m
– SunVieShow IMAX, Taipei – 21m x 11.3m
– Vie Show Cinemas Banciao Mega City IMAX – 21.4m x 11.45m
– Standard IMAX screen – 22m x 16.1m
– Miramar IMAX – 28.8 x 21.16m
– LG IMAX Sydney – 35.73m x 29.42m
– Kaohsiung VieShow IMAX – 15.9m x 8.2m
– Kaohsiung Dream Mall Cinemark Cine X house (not IMAX) – 20m x 8.2m
– Kaohsiung E-Da World Ambassador Cinema Sky House (not IMAX) – 20m x 8.5m
– Taipei Ambassador Theater 3DX House (not IMAX) – 22m x 12m
– Vie Show Cinemas Taichung Top City IMAX – 18.25m x 9m
– Vie Show Cinemas Taichung Tiger City IMAX – 16m x 9m
Ultimately, the big question is: Despite all the shortfalls of all 3 IMAX screens in HK why do people keep flocking in to DARK KNIGHT RISES shows? It’s fairly simple. Despite all cinema chains’ agenda to decrease th
e size of new screens audiences want it big. Why would you go to a theater like UA Shatin when your TV set at home is even bigger in size and the BluRay player offers even better quality? The local theater policy turned the mini-IMAX screens into giants amongst the dwarfs.
Let me close with the following advertisement I found in the Bangkok Post. The city’s Paragon cinema explains the advantage of its superior screening system. An ad that comes from the cinema itself, not Warner. I also like the “2D” indication, which by now seems to be a selling point to audiences, cause after all Batman 2D competes with Spiderman 4D here.