The announcements generally come without a lot of fanfare – often the first public indication that yet another big budget blockbuster will be getting the IMAX conversion treatment comes via a short and very to-the-point press release. You’d think that the news that a new film is due to be projected on to a screen the size of an apartment building would require a smidge more fanfare, but the rapid rise of IMAX up-conversions (and up-sells) has all but removed the need to make a big deal out of a (literally) big film. Seeing a feature film in IMAX used to be special, a real treat, a unique spectacle, but the recent uptick in converting films to the format has removed that sense of magic – and some of the films chosen for the blow-up aren’t helping matters in the slightest.
The next film to seemingly randomly get the IMAX treatment is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Sony Pictures’ latest production, a new take on Paul Verhoeven’s modern sci-fi classic, an adaptation of “RoboCop” that’s been in the works for years. IMAX announced the news late last week, thanks to a predictably slim press release that only shared that Jose Padilha’s spin on the oops-we-turned-you-into-a-robot-police-officer-so-sorry story would be digitally re-mastered “into the immersive IMAX format” and would be available in IMAX theaters starting on February 7, 2014, the film’s already-set wide release date.
The film joins a long list of converted IMAX features to grace the massive screens this year, including “Pacific Rim,” “Elysium,” “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” “Riddick,” “After Earth,” “Fast & Furious 6,” “Iron Man 3,” “Jack the Giant Slayer,” “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” and the currently-in-theaters remastered “The Wizard of Oz.” IMAX will also soon play host to a hefty number of other features, including “Metallica Through the Never,” “Gravity,” “Ender’s Game,” “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Interstellar,” and the final two “The Hobbit” films. Have you got a blockbuster? Convert it to IMAX. Why not, really?
Well, actually, why? Despite the rise of post-converted IMAX features hitting the big, big, big screen lately, I’ve managed to avoid the eye-popping spectacle of a true IMAX movie-going experience over the past few years, save for a precious few IMAX “experiences,” including “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Fast Five,” “Born to Be Wild” (purely accidental), and “The Dark Knight Rises.” The last film I saw in true IMAX (not a pesky “lie-max” theater that charges IMAX prices for subpar screen size and sound) was a TIFF screening of “Gravity.” It was utterly awe-inspiring, a truly immersive experience that literally made my jaw drop and my fists clench. This was a film to watch in IMAX, this was a fine use of the biggest screen and best sound money can buy. This was not something like “The Mortal Instruments,” which not only does not require a five-story tall screen to watch it on, but which probably looked just terrible, considering the film itself is shockingly poor. If even “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” can go IMAX, the market is saturated enough and the standards for the pristine sound and screen are bizarrely low.
Sure, converting a film to IMAX guarantees that at least some moviegoers will show up to pay an appropriately beefy ticket price, but the box office busts of IMAX features like “The Mortal Instruments” and “The Lone Ranger” prove that a jacked-up cost doesn’t mean that receipts will be appropriately large. Will the studios learn? Perhaps – the IMAX slate for 2014 is punctuated with at least a few titles that actually seem appropriate for the format (“Interstellar,” “Transcendence,” and “Godzilla” certainly stand out), but the inclusion of such fare as “Divergent” and “300: Rise of an Empire” seem purely stunt-y and in pursuit of more box office cash.
Back in 2002, when select feature films went the IMAX route, they were genuinely select feature films that were a good fit for the format. In its early years as an option for features, films like “Apollo 13,” “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones,” and both “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions” were event films even without the added interest of IMAX. Pushing them out via IMAX only increased the sense that they were unique outings, while throwing something like “Puss In Boots” or “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” into the format makes the entire thing seem cheap and expected. By the time 2006 rolled around, and films like “The Ant Bully” and “Open Season” got IMAX releases, the shine was off in a big way – and the continued flooding of IMAX theaters with less than special offerings hasn’t helped things as time has gone on.
Until the “IMAX Experience” decides to return to its roots as a real “experience” for exciting, appropriate titles, we’ll just stick to smaller screens.