March 15, 2012

POP CULTURE APOCALYPSE MINUS 9: “Hunger Games” and the IMAX Crush

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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If you want to see THE HUNGER GAMES in IMAX, the best visual format available, you’re going to have to hurry:  it’s currently scheduled to screen in IMAX theatres for only a single week.  Even though Hunger is expected to be one of the highest-opening pictures of the year, with a 2d weekend that will probably be bigger than the openings of most movies, it’s due to be yanked from IMAX release after March 29, because the following day, those theatres are all booked to show Wrath of the Titans.  And this is why.

There was a time when IMAX theatres showed a steady diet of nothing but nature documentaries, concert movies and the occasional cartoon.  Use of the 70mm IMAX camera was difficult–heavy, noisy and tricky to maneuver, capable of holding a limited amount of film stock (even now, supporters of the form like Christopher Nolan can only use it for selected sequences), not to mention costly, and traditional IMAX theatres require expensive construction and a great deal of space.  
In 2002, IMAX unveiled its Digital Media Remastering (DMR) process, under which a film shot in regular 35mm (or digitally) can be converted for IMAX exhibition.  (Apollo 13 was the first release, although it had to be edited, because at the time IMAX projectors couldn’t handle a film more than 2 hours long.)  The image quality isn’t quite the same as “real” IMAX, but it’s considerably more detailed and sharp than an ordinary film print.  
Even with DMR. releasing a film in IMAX required a major outlay of cash for use on a very limited number of screens.  As recently as 2007, only 5 new Hollywood features were released in the DMR process. But in 2008, IMAX started licensing its name to what are called IMAX Digital Theatres, which are essentially regular multiplex auditoriums using IMAX Digital projectors on larger-than-usual screens, providing images that are even less pristine than IMAX DMR versions in “real” IMAX theatres–but still crisper than regular 35mm.  Major theatre chains like AMC signed up to add what some call “IMAX Lite” to their multiplexes.
That was when the rush began.  
By 2009, Hollywood studios were presenting a dozen movies in IMAX.  The following year, there were 16 in wide IMAX release.  Last year, 22.  And in 2012, there are already 21 scheduled releases.  The result, of course, is that hardly any films released in IMAX can have lengthy runs, especially in the summer and the holiday season, when the big openings come hot and heavy.  Among the summer releases scheduled for IMAX this year are The Avengers (May 4), Dark Shadows (May 11),  Men In Black 3 (May 25), Prometheus (June 8), Brave (June 22), The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3), and The Dark Knight Rises (July 20). 
These are some of the biggest, most expensive movies of the year, and none of them is scheduled for an IMAX run longer than 17 days.  In the case of Hunger Games, Lionsgate didn’t decide until February that the film was going to be an IMAX-worthy event (these theatres are now so difficult to book that there are already half a dozen 2013 movies set for IMAX release), and by then Wrath of the Titans was already scheduled for the following week.

All of which is to say:  if you want your Hunger Games in IMAX, better buy your tickets in advance.  Word is that midnight IMAX shows are already so full that 3AM shows are being scheduled for the pre-dawn hours of opening morning.  

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."