Your local multiplex is panicking. Despite slowly beginning to recover from disastrous admissions from decades ago, they still have multiple threats on the horizon. Netflix and illegal streaming services are the key culprit here, so they’ve been working over-time on ways to get you out of the living room and into their auditorium. How do they do this? Well they create so-called “experiences” that you can’t get anywhere else. Some of these can enhance your experience, like IMAX and Dolby Cinema; others can be a gimmick with little to offer other than a sore head and a brief idea of what you just watched. So, here are some of the worst and weirdest formats cinemas have dreamt up in recent times.
The newest to make its way to Cineworld in the UK via South Korean cinema chain CJ CGV cinemas who developed this monstrosity in 2012. Since then it has expanded to over 100 screens around countries primarily in Asia. The format takes Cinerama and decides to put the extreme left and the extreme right of that frame on the walls of the auditorium. This theoretically gives audiences 270 degree of viewing angle which the promotional material tells us will make it “more immersive for the audience”. The main issue I take here is when you look at footage taken inside the cinema you can see a clear 90-degree angle where the image jumps from the screen to walls. Thankfully, most post-converted movies don’t do this for the full runtime but at the same time it still defeats the purpose of the format.
I will applaud it for successfully extending the image beyond the frame. Looking at B-Roll they didn’t use a three-camera rig to film the sides of the frame (more on this later); they also didn’t zoom in the image slightly to give the impression this is new footage you can’t see anywhere else. This leaves only the plausible, computer-generated sides. Due to the sides not being active for the whole film this makes it a relatively cheap idea that could work to immerse you into the movie.
Except, it doesn’t immerse you at all. Messaging someone who tried the format I’ve heard nothing but negative things which involved him walking out of the cinema 30 minutes in. His main complaint was the brightness: two extra light sources on either side made it hard to concentrate on the main images. Another strange one was that the projectors for the right side were shining into his eyes. He also mentioned my concern about the images not joining correctly due to the corner and noted that the middle screen was calibrated for colour differently to the sides. All this in mind, when I’m in London in October I’ll still be making my way over to the O2 to try it out for myself.
Developed by an American company called Barco, who are mainly famous for supplying pieces of technology to other projection and sound companies, and their underutilised sound system Auro 11.1. They decided to copy the format of Screen X but use actual screens instead of the theatre walls, making it more of a Cinerama knock-off than a Screen X lookalike, to be fair.
Out of the gate, there was a little bit of buzz surrounding it. They had made deals with some major movies like the first two Maze Runner movies and Star Trek: Beyond. These films featured around 10 to 20 minutes of expanded footage. Not only this but the team developed a three-camera rig to shoot some movies native to the format. The downside to this was that no studio wanted to touch it. I’d take a guess at the relatively small number of cinemas with the format compared to the only other format that offers “specially formatted” movies, IMAX. This left it to smaller, low budget movies, the only major stand-out of them, to me, is Wesley Snipes’ straight to DVD (in the UK) film, Final Recall. Most of the movies were critical and commercial failures. By February 2018 Barco announced that they were discontinuing this format to focus on other interests. At least they tried.
After IMAX this has been the second biggest push into UK cinemas. Cineworld, the main embracers of the South Korean business CJ CGV, has opened 19 of these in their cinemas at the time of writing, with the promise of many more in the future. If you’ve been to Orlando or any other theme park with modern simulator rides you may feel like you’ve done this sort of thing before. 4DX is a two-hour theme park ride in which you’re subjected to an attack on all senses.
When I say “attack on your senses” I really wasn’t joking. Billed as the “absolute cinema experience”, 4DX sits you in a big red chair that can force you all around in time to the events taking place on a screen. Say you’re watching a dogfight with the X-wings in Star Wars: you’d copy the same kinds of motion it was going through. This can be a cool experience, and I decided to make my first time using the format my third time seeing The Last Jedi. It injected some more life into a movie I already loved, taking a great movie and giving it a new lease of life on a rewatch.
There are some other effects that can both detract from and enhance your experience. On the good side there are smells that are pumped in: these can be the smell of burnt rubber from tires, or a fired gun. It doesn’t always work and the only time I do remember it working was the smell of cooking fish on the island on Achtoo in The Last Jedi. There are water effects which mean you’ll be sprayed (within reason) during splashes and rain in a movie; this effect can be turned off, which is a nice touch.
The negatives are really what makes me avoid this format. It uses strobe lighting during on-screen events like the firing of a spaceship’s blaster or lightning strikes. This gives you the need for a couple of seconds to readjust, like the flashbang effect in Call of Duty games. This is made much worse because the system uses RealD 3D, so not only can you not see it, but the image, while you’re recovering, is nothing but a blur. This effect isn’t used all that often and thankfully is relegated to one or two blaster fires per scene. Then, there’s the worst of them all, the snow machine. Something so loud and obnoxious that I wish they would just remove it completely. This loud fan throws bits of foam at the front of the cinema, making an extremely loud noise and aiming it in front of the screen so it can distract you from what’s going on.
The experience, while trying to make your movie-watching more immersive, manages to do the opposite, as you’re always aware that something silly is going on around you, whether it’s a scream from the person behind you or the fact you’ve just been sprayed with water and must now wipe your 3D glasses. The whole thing is a bit like Marmite: you’ll either fall in love with it or scream that it is everything wrong with the cinema industry today.
Imagine a standard cinema screen. Blow it up from wall to ceiling of your auditorium. Then, punch it in the centre. Basically, you have a screen that wraps over like someone who has been punched in the gut. This knock-off of the IMAX Dome, a format commonly found in science centres around the world, was developed by our good friends CJ CGV of South Korea. Are you starting to see a common theme in this list?
The main issue with this gem is that when you project something onto it you’re going to be in for a disaster. Everything will be distorted and look unnatural. It only takes a quick trip to Twitter to find out that even IMAX Dome has issues with this, in all the unformatted scenes of Dunkirk (the ones that never filled the screen), there was clear distortion with the image and ended up with many people feeling a bit sick. The only saving grace you’ll have here is some form of mega surround sound that you’ll be able to find from a better brand, with a better screen. Thankfully this hasn’t made its way around the world yet, but I wouldn’t put it past Cineworld.
These gimmicks all have one major thing in common, instead of putting you into the movie they force you back out. The whole idea of them is a trade-off where you can either accept that this thing is adding something totally unnecessary for a bit of fun for the audience or just see the film in a good format like IMAX (3D or 2D) or Dolby Cinema. There is always going to be regular 2D as well, which thankfully won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Unless South Korea come up with a wacky new way of reinventing that.