I first went to see Star Trek at the Goodrich Hamilton 16 in Noblesville last Thursday night for the 9:50 showing. The theater is near to my house and has been of good quality in the relatively short time that it has been been open. Aside from some dirt on the film (which appears quite huge on an IMAX screen) and a somewhat subdued volume level (more of a preference than a problem), the experience was a typical and positive IMAX presentation.
My second viewing occured the next night at the AMC South Barrington 30 in Chicago. I happened to be in Chicago attending Anime Central and organized a group of interested people to go see the movie. This was my first experience with digital IMAX projection. Digital has some obvious advantages over traditional film projection--most notably, no problems with dust on the print. However, the resolution is not equal to that of film and, when projected to IMAX proportions, is noticably so.
However, I believe that theater may have been an IMAX retrofit of an existing large, but smaller than typical IMAX cinema. Also, we arrived just a few minutes prior to seating of what was likely a nearly sold out show. That meant we ended up about two-thirds back in the theater and off to the side. From that distance, the resolution wasn't really a problem.
The digital projection definitely looked more like video than film. I won't get too deep into that debate and just say that, for me, that means sharper and with more saturated colors. I wouldn't call this "better" than film so much as just different. I think film has a more "natural" look to it. But perhaps that's just that I have 30+ years of watching film in cinemas and that is what I have come to expect. Anyway, that experience was also a typical and positive IMAX presentation for me. In fact, they had the sound cranked to the point that I could feel it. That made me happy.
That brings me to tonight's experience at the Kerasotes Showplace 16 in Greenwood. Prior to the opening of the Hamilton 16 nearer to me, I used to to travel to the Greenwood Showplace specifically to see movies presented in IMAX. My experiences there had always been good in the past, but I have not been there in a year or two. Well, virtually nothing went well in this experience. Any one factor I would likely have shrugged off, but the combination of all really has me wanting never to return.
I went to the movie with Chad. First, after purchasing our tickets, we waited to get some concessions. There were 4 registers open, but it still took about 10 minutes for us to be served. This seems rather slow. Again, I'd be willing to forgive, but then Chad's pretzel was cold--basically not even cooked--and they were unable to serve me an ICEE because both machines behind the concession stand were not properly frozen.
Then, it was on to the theater where we had already missed part of the trailers due to waiting in line for concessions. The show was quite crowded and it was obvious that the theater staff had made no effort to ask people to fill in all available seats as is typically done at near capacity shows. That made finding seats for me a Chad a bit of a challenge as there were many single seats sprinkled throughout the theater. Fortunately, we did find a couple about midway back and right in the center.
This theater has also apparently converted to digital IMAX projection (it was still film all previous times I have visited). This being a more typically large sized IMAX theater, I could really see the lack of resolution from my vantage point. It was not terribly objectionable, but the "screen door effect" of seeing the individual pixels was visible if I looked for it. Also, objects with hard edges or curves (particularly graphics) had edges that were less than smooth. But alas, this has nothing to do with this particular theater and I do not hold it against them.
However, particularly in bright scenes, the seams in the panels of the screen were clearly visible. There was also some dirt on the screen itself that was revealed in bright scenes. I found this rather distracting and objectionable. During the course of the movie I thought I might have noticed a couple of glitches where it felt like a frame got skipped or something. However, it happened so quickly that I thought I may have just blinked funny. And then, at a rather climactic moment in the movie, it happened...
The picture just froze. That's right, the movie crashed. A still frame of Sulu at the moment of the freeze remained on the screen. A manager announced that she would look into the issue and then later reported that the theater had suffered a power surge. That's believeable considering the rather awful weather we had tonight. But the PC at my office is 3-4 years old and has a value of < $1000. I have power protection for it. I'm deeply disturbed if the theater wouldn't have protection for a projection system that likely costs tens of thousands of dollars.
If it had simply gone out completely, I would understand more--simply a complete loss of power. But the fact that the projector continued to show a still image tells me that the computer running the movie crapped out in some way. I ceratinly understand that computers sometimes crash. Afterall, it's my job to deal with just such occurences. But if the crash was caused by a power issue...well, that's certainly preventable--and should have been on such valuable equipment.
I didn't actually see the movie start back up again as I took the opportunity to visit the restroom...which was out of service! So I had to go to the one on the other side of the theater. Again, I'd be willing to overlook something like that if it was the only thing that had gone wrong.
The movie finished. I still enjoyed it because I enjoy the movie, but this was easily the worst theater experience I've had in quite some time. It was the the type of experience that caused me to stop going to movies in theaters EXCEPT for IMAX as all other experiences were simply not worth the price of admission to me. I'm going to chalk up this negative experience as the fault of the theater and not the IMAX format. It's just a shame to now have a negative experience associated with IMAX for me when I specifically select IMAX to have a positive experience.
To top off the entire experience, Chad and I decided to play a game of DDR in the theater arcade prior to leaving. It happened to be a bootleg DDR Megamix. I knew of the bootleg but have never actually seen one in person. Chad never had as well. As it was only 50 cents to play, we figured it would be a funny diversion (DON'T FALL OFF!). The arcade is apparently operated by Namco. The machine was easily in the worst condition of any I have played on in the past 3-4 years. It was playable, but it literally clanked as I played. It was just rotten icing on an already foul cake.
Kerasotes Showplace 16 Greenwood is off my list of acceptable theaters due to compounding factors leading me to believe that they have a substandard concern for the quality of the overall experience they provide. I see no reason to drive so far to pay so much for so little.