IMAX- The definitive go-to word that a lot of movies like to plaster all over their posters, likely in hopes of providing an elite viewing experience to the audience. But does IMAX really affect that experience in practice? How much do you actually know about the format?
IMAX- A Quick Refresher
The format first came into mainstream use around the mid-2000s as a way of providing the audience with a larger than life format of viewing cinema. But theatre screens are already large enough, you might say. While true, you have to take into consideration some of the various picturesque methods, or aspect ratios, that films and TV shows are shot in.
Well, no I’m not going to really go in-depth about the formats and trust you’ll get all the basic information you’ll need from above. Plus I gotta give all the credit (& rightfully so) to Now You See It here. In case you don’t have the time, here are the bare basics:
- 21:9 is considered the industry standard when it comes to feature films. This is accompanied by shooting on either 35-mm film format or on a similar digital setup.
- 16:9 is the traditional docu-drama and TV format. A lot of TV shows use this ratio in order to give a heightened sense of realism.
- 4:3 is probably the oldest on this list and is usually associated with really old films and TV shows of the past.
Over the years, filmmakers have devised ways of using multiple aspect ratios in their films and shows to properly portray the emotions that need to be, to the audience. Imagine Star Wars in a traditional 16:9 format. You can’t, can you? This wide ratio is meant to give out a sense of wonder.
Similarly, the 16:9 ratio of a more realistic show, say Breaking Bad, convinces us of these happenings taking place in our world. It seems real because it looks real. So that’s that.
What’s So Special About IMAX?
In IMAX, the whole frame is used for video projection. That is, a ratio close to 1.43:1 is maintained, instead of the usual 2.35:1 (21:9 as stated above). This means that you’ll be physically seeing more of the image. Goodbye black bars on the top and bottom! Also, the picture is not being fitted into the larger frame, so there’s no stretching. What you see is the real, full-frame that was captured with the IMAX cameras.
“That’s great, But How Will It Affect The Viewing Experience?”
Judge for yourself here. See how much of the image is lost when you’re viewing it on a standard screen? That’s the difference.
“But it’s only cropping a small part of the screen, will it really matter?”, you ask.
Films are made with the intention of making them feel immersive. As immersive as possible. That’s the chief reason technologies like these exist. Each film that is sent to IMAX is processed further in a technique called Digital Media Remastering (or DMR). Here’s a list of films processed as under that technique. Essentially, DMR makes it so the image and sound you get in an IMAX experience are unparalleled. You get a cleaner image and a better surround sound to truly put you on the heels of the characters in the movie.
You really have to see (and hear) it to believe it. And you can’t expect to get the IMAX version of the film in-home release platforms (even including streaming).
So why am I talking about Avengers (Infinity War and Endgame) specifically? Why not the same recommendation for every other movie? 2 reasons for that:
- IMAX tickets are expensive.
- Avengers: Infinity War is being touted as the first feature film ever to be completely shot in the prestigious format.
Yes, prior to that, no other movie had ever been shot 100% on those cameras. The most any movie has ever come in using them is Christopher Nolan’s recent entries. Dunkirk had almost 3/4th of its runtime dedicated to showing pure IMAX goodness. Those of you who saw the film in the large format will know the impact it can have.
Much of that film was shot using hand-held camera techniques, which led some audiences to feel nauseated during the action-heavy sequences. That feeling can be increased exponentially when viewing in IMAX or other large formats such as AMC Prime, Dolby Cinema, etc. This can be avoided when the cameras are used in steady shots.
Both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame will undoubtedly have used steady cams to shoot its action set-pieces. How so? Just take a look at the composition of action sequences (or the films in general) of the past MCU films. All of them use similar techniques (for better or for worse). That’s one of the chief reasons why all of these movies look and feel similar. Most of the time they use the same cameras, even the same lenses in some cases.
Still on the fence about it? Okay. Remember the airport sequence from Captain America: Civil War? You know, the biggest action set piece the MCU has ever delivered? That was shot on IMAX.
Now, traditionally filmmakers (read: Chris Nolan) have tried to use the cameras as much as they could, but the cameras themselves are quite heavy and expensive. You don’t wanna break one. That’s one of the main reasons why Dunkirk was only partly shot in the format. But for Civil War, Marvel Studios partnered up with IMAX to make a customized camera format. This included fitting the existing IMAX technology in the smaller form factor of the Arri Alexa.
That’s why directors Anthony and Joe Russo were able to use the system to shoot the entire film in the format. Even next years’ follow up to Infinity War is being shot in this new format.
So, there you have it. Those were the reasons you should consider when booking that ticket. The film is releasing in multiple formats, with all of them ripe for the picking. I mentioned the same in my review of Infinity War. Due to the same reasons, IMAX is increasing its dominance throughout India and abroad, quickly becoming the format to experience a movie in.