IMAX with Laser vs 70mm/15 perf

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens

I’ve seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens twice now, and I’m hoping to go and see it a third time. Why? Because of IMAX with Laser.

Apart from very much enjoying episode 7 (I found it to be an excellent and enjoyable film – for more of a review, see what James wrote about it here).

What I want to talk about, instead, is projection technology. The first time I saw Episode 7 was on 70mm/15perf and London’s Science Museum IMAX. I choose to watch it here, because it was not only the only 70mm print of the film in the country, but in the entirety of Europe. The people who went to see it here were there not only because they were Star Wars fans (that was definitely a factor) but also most likely people who appreciated 70mm. The second time I saw it was on the new IMAX with Laser.

The concept of 65mm/70mm has had a bit of a resurgence recently, thanks in part of Christopher Nolan, who really pioneered the usage of IMAX Cameras in 2008’s The Dark Knight, and over the last 5 years, IMAX cameras have seen a glorious heyday, being used on dozens of feature films, including 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

This things really are huge "IMAX camera 1". Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IMAX_camera_1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:IMAX_camera_1.jpg

An old IMAX camera with some 70mm next to it.
“IMAX camera 1”. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IMAX_camera_1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:IMAX_camera_1.jpg

I’ve talked about the good old Film vs Digital argument beforeseveral times, but I mostly focused on the acquisition element, and not display or projection. I have mostly ignored this.

It’s certainly true that the 70mm projection felt special. It opened to full height for the Millennium Falcon desert flight sequence, and at one particularly quiet point the film could be heard whirring through the projector in the booth. That was definitely special.

Yes there was dirt on the film (I have been told in confidence by someone who went back there a week later that it was clear), and in the final scene where Rey meets Luke, the film became…essentially unwatchable due to the extraordinary amount of flicker (far worse than any active 3D system I have come across). Nevertheless, I would compare a 70mm projection system to a steam train. Dirtier, noisier, and objectively probably not as good as something modern, but yet with a special old world quality.

Before I continue I want to make it clear that I’m not a big fan of the botch job IMAX did at many of their newer 2K IMAX MPXs screens. They definitely went for quantity over quality, but the initial furor over being misled has died down and people have accepted them, IMAX has rolled out onto nearly 1,000 screens.

The 2K system is pretty disappointing. Chicken mesh pixilation was definitely visible during a screening of Ant Man during several scenes, which was disappointing.

However, I’d heard good things about IMAX with Laser before seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I found that the system exceeded by expectations. The blacks were definitely black, and the highlights were handled well. Colours seemed vivid, and the picture seemed clear. Interestingly, a few points where I had observed softness in the 70mm film version also cropped up in the IMAX with Laser version. This may have been intentional.

The new 12 channel IMAX sound system also performed excellently. It was loud and clear (perhaps a little loud in some scenes) and the bass had a definite presence. The scene were Starkiller Base fires felt like a slap, and some loose fixtures in the cinema even rattled. Barring some concerns I had about sound mixing (specifically dialogue coming out of the center channel when someone is standing off-screen, which was very noticeable on such a large screen), the experience was a definite success.

I am less worried about the future now. Less. We’re still all doomed.

Jacob

Write a variety of articles, when I get the time. Usually do more longform and analysis than I probably should. Also an editor.

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