More and more films are hitting the really big screen these days—this summer, the most anticipated action films, such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, are making both theatrical widescreen and IMAX debuts. While IMAX has been praised for completely immersing viewers in the realm of the film by extending past their peripheral vision, are Hollywood films really suited for this super-sized format?
The IMAX screen may be larger than the theatrical widescreen, but the difference in aspect ratio (the height and width dimensions) is significant enough to affect what you see on screen. In other words, because the IMAX screen is more square than the format for which cinematic films are made, the sides are cut off of the original compositions.
When filmmakers spend so much time deciding what is seen in each shot, does IMAX enhance or detract from the film? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released in widescreen and IMAX versions, the latter of which includes a 3D portion. Yet, the film was clearly made for the widescreen—even the broomstick-flying sequences that show the characters sweeping through London avoided indulging in the swooping cinematography common to IMAX films. When such large images are employed in a narrative film—as opposed to the gee-whiz landscapes of traditional IMAX films—it can be overwhelming and even distracting for the viewer, who has a hard time seeing the whole picture. Add the third dimension, and it becomes even more difficult to take everything in.
Yet, it's impossible to deny the thrill of the IMAX 3D Harry Potter even if it provides only momentary exhilaration as, for example, we dodge glass shards and sand in the epic battle finale. IMAX is an exciting change from the average theatrical screen, but its limits in exhibiting blockbuster films the way they were intended to be seen demonstrate that IMAX ultimately can't compete with the original.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: An IMAX Experience is being shown at Exploris' IMAX theater. Visit www.exploris.org for more information.