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Farewell to IMAX

IMAX Spacedome
The Spacedome

Before I begin this, let me relate to you my relationship with IMAX. I’m originally from Huntsville, Alabama. And in Huntsville we have the Space and Rocket Center. Which is quite swank and you should visit if you haven’t. In the Center is the Spacedome, an IMAX screen. It opened in 1982, so I would go see movies there–space docu movies is pretty much all we had, but still. They were ginormous and awesome and even bigger because I was a kid, so everything was bigger back then.

I even–perhaps this is during my lamentable stint at Space Camp (the actual thing, not the movie version)–learned about where to sit to get the best effect, i.e. right by the “Doghouse,” or the projector that sat in the middle of the seating area. And that made it all even cooler.

[ad#longpost]Now it’s many moons later and up until yesterday, I haven’t seen IMAX in a long time. And there’s IMAX Digital and IMAX 3D and IMAX that isn’t really IMAX because it’s on a multiplex screen and on and on and on. I don’t know the difference between them all. I just know that I haven’t been to an IMAX screening in years because the closest full-on IMAX screen is at the Mall of Georgia, which is roughly on the other side of Jehovah from where I live in Atlanta.

Still, I figure if any movie deserved the IMAX 3D treatment, it would be Avatar, which is the best cinematic visual feast in recent memory. So we made the trek across the state to the cinema.

And here is my shocking revelation and another sign that my childhood is dead. (Another significant sign being I realize now that when Stan Lee proclaims that action is mile a minute, that just means it’s going 60mph, which would get you run over on I-285.) What I discovered is that IMAX is just a big screen. That’s all. A big screen. But what about the 3D? Well, this wasn’t digital 3D–at least not that I could tell–so several times during the film, since this was using the linear lenses, I would catch the two images instead of the 3D. I know that’s because I was tilting my head but with a screen that size, it’s hard not to. And because it wasn’t digital, it just wasn’t as crisp and the 3D not as striking as when I saw it the first time.

Now there may be digital versions of IMAX 3D…it wasn’t clear from what I could find online–and it’s bad enough that you can’t seem to find anything that tells you the actual screen size of the cinema. Seeing as how a bigass screen is the main draw, you’d think bragging about the size would be warranted. Maybe there’s a moratorium so that nobody can find out how small the smaller screens are. After the Spacedome, I’d have scoffed at IMAX being regular cinema-sized.

I realize I’m probably in the minority on this–I seem to be doing that a lot these days–since the screening we went to, 11:50am on a Saturday, was pretty much full and the film’s been out for weeks. Some people just like the size of it. Me, I’d take a decently calibrated digital screening on a smaller screen at a closer cinema. The experience, for me anyway, is a better one. And hell, when I finally get a big enough LED HD TV, I may never leave the house again.

So fare thee well, IMAX. We’ll always have those moments of triumph in the 80s when I managed to sit next to the Doghouse.



  • I think that IMAX 3D really depends on the movie. I have yet to see a movie in IMAX 3D that just made me go “WHOA” like those that I saw as a kid (and adult) at the Space Center 3D (there’s one in FL too!).

    I saw Avatar in 3D in a regular theater and thought it was fine. I don’t think seeing it on an IMAX “MEGA-SCREEN” would do anything better.

    That being said – seeing (reboot) ST on the IMAX “MEGA-SCREEN” was awesome and there was no big screen.

    And yes, we try to sit in the middle too – the only time we ever do that! :)

  • has maps that show (in theory) all IMAX screens, and what size and type they are.
    Having said that, I though I was the only one in the world that thought IMAX, even real IMAX, isn’t really worth the extra money. There are way more factors involved with the movie-going experience that weigh heavier than the size of the screen. Audience, seating, atmosphere, even (crazy I know) the quality of the movie itself. If those other things aren’t up to par, it won’t matter if the movie is projected directly on your optical nerves.

  • Phan: Yeah, that site has a format but not an actual size. And it at least gives you more info, i.e. flat vs. dome. But still no actual “How big is the fricking screen?” But yeah, you’re not alone.

  • I saw Avatar in Digital 3D at the best cinema in town on an imax sized screen. It was pretty. I never saw multiple images. I was also very pleased that I could see the colors properly with the polarized lenses (I still see in two colors with the new magenta/green at-home lenses, bah!).

    That said, I miss the IMAX 3D films I used to go see as a kid. Like the one about fish. And the one about Everest. And the one that made me feel like I was flying. Those were the days.

  • Go to’s Maps page ( and click on any marker. Where we have the information, we show the screen size. (If you have Google Earth software, you can download a worldwide map that’s even better.)

    Unfortunately, Imax Corporation and the theater chains are not providing screen data for the new digital screens, so we have to go and measure them ourselves, which is why we don’t have every theater yet.

    Widge: which IMAX theater did you go to? The ones at the Fernbank Science Center, the Regal Mall of Georgia in Buford, and the new one at the Infantry Museum in Columbus are real giant-screen theaters (about 60×80 feet). The AMC screens at Kennesaw and Morrow, and the Regal at Augusta, are digital, and their screens are probably 50-60 feet wide.

  • One thing you should know about “Avatar” is that Cameron decided to shrink the image on IMAX film prints. Hollywood films never fill the full height of a classic IMAX screen like the one at the Mall of Georgia, but instead of filling the full width and about 75% of the height the frame, “Avatar” was shrunk to about 80% of the width and 60% of the height. So the image takes up less than half the full area of that giant screen.

    This may have been partly responsible for your disappointment with the experience. Also, people who start out with the IMAX Dome experience often feel the standard flat-screen IMAX experience is not as impressive. Personally, I prefer the flat screens, but it’s a matter of taste.

    I suggest going to see a film shot in the IMAX format at the Fernbank Museum of Natural Science, like “Forces of Nature” or “Wild Ocean,” which are playing now. Both are very good, and I think they’ll remind you of the good old days in Huntsville. Or wait for “Hubble 3D,” which is coming in March. It may show at the Mall of Georgia, too.

    (I mistakenly mentioned Fernbank Science Center in my first post. Different Place. FMNS has the IMAX theater; FSC has a planetarium. Sorry.)

  • I think one of the IMAX docus is indeed the way to go…and non-3D. If somebody wanted to project, say, Blue Planet onto a screen that size I think I’d be all over it. :-)

  • I know that this is over 2 years old, but I just saw The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX and my feelings were mixed. The scenes actually shot on IMAX were spectacular to see– incredibly sharp and, especially that opening sequence, were really immersive. However, that just made the lack of sharpness in the regular 70mm more apparent. Also, I wasn’t a big fan of the distortion caused by the curved screen. I’ll shame-facedly admit that it was the only thing I’ve ever seen in IMAX, so maybe films made specifically for IMAX are better at compensating for the curved screen, but it was kind of like looking at an image cropped from a shot from a fisheye lens. I’m not sure that the sharpness and hugeness compensate for the distortion. The sound was loud but clear (the latter has been missing from recent theater-going experiences where loud comes first even if it causes distortion and pain). Anyway, not writing off IMAX all together, but I probably won’t go to any more major releases at one.

  • Mathme: If you saw the film on a full-blown uber-IMAX, I would urge you to try the smaller IMAX, that’s basically a regular widescreen movie screen but larger. Since I’ve written this article I found that certain films in that format–GHOST PROTOCOL, AVENGERS and also DARK KNIGHT RISES–look pretty damn awesome. GHOST PROTOCOL brought me back to the fold. I would not, however, go back to a full-blown IMAX showing again. The smaller (but larger than normal) screen works for me just fine. Thanks for the comment.