Some of the most exciting films ever produced were shot on an IMAX camera with IMAX film. The incredible experience of seeing movies like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Star Trek: Into Darkness, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame demonstrated the power of this special film technology.
Naturally, given the size of the standard IMAX theater and the cost to attend a film at such a theater, it’s common to wonder what the best seats in the IMAX theater are. In this post, we look at what goes into making an IMAX film, and why that information is important when it comes to selecting the right seat at an IMAX theater.
Here’s what you need to know.
What Are the Best Seats in the IMAX Theater?
Although the IMAX experience is meant to be an immersive experience, there are some factors that make the experience less immersive for some. IMAX is made so that you see it in your peripheral vision.
However, since human beings don’t come equipped with great peripheral vision, sitting in certain locations makes for a less-than-ideal viewing experience.
Additionally, there is something called the “keystone effect,” which happens when you project an flat image onto an angled surface. That image looks distorted, unless the keystone distortion gets corrected. How bad the keystone effect is also depends on where you sit; some angles distort it more than others.
The bigness of the sound can also overwhelm you if you sit in the wrong place in the theater.
In light of this, it’s ideal if you can sit in the center of the theater. This minimizes the keystone effect and doesn’t cause the next strain that sitting in the very front row can cause. It also makes the sound manageable.
If it’s not possible to find seats in the center of the IMAX theater, then sitting in the back corners offers a fairly good option. At this angle, it’s difficult to see the keystone effect in action.
All of this said, however, it’s important to note that if you’ve gone to an IMAX movie before, then you may have a preference that isn’t at the CenterPoint of the theater. That’s okay, too. That’s part of the fun of the IMAX experience — getting to try out all the different viewing vantage points in the theater.
What Is IMAX?
According to the Nashville Film Institute, IMAX isn’t just a big theater. IMAX is an industry within an industry. The firm, IMAX, is responsible for the manufacture of film projectors, high-resolution film lenses, codecs, and other theatrical equipment.
Today, when a movie director shoots a film on IMAX film with an IMAX camera, film-goers understand that the film has a certain dimension and belongs in a special theater, an IMAX theater.
When Was IMAX Invented?
The IMAX experience first hit the movie scene in the early 1970s. At that time, people primarily went to see wildlife films on IMAX. According to the National Air and Space Museum, Tiger Child was the first ever IMAX film. It made its debut at the World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan.
The City of Toronto has the honor of being the birthplace of the first IMAX theater system, which was put up in Ontario Place.
However, it really didn’t hit its heyday in mainstream film until the beginning of the 21st century because there were some who felt that the IMAX format wasn’t practical for mainstream movies.
How Big Is an IMAX Screen?
According to How Stuff Works, you’ll get an idea of how big an IMAX screen is if you consider the average 8-story building. That’s the height of the biggest IMAX screen, but that’s not all. This IMAX screen is tall, but not as tall as it is wide. It measures almost 100 feet tall. It’s also 45 times bigger than your average TV set.
That’s not typical for IMAX, however. Most IMAX screens measure just over 50 feet tall by 70 feet wide.
There is one more IMAX screen that’s worth a mention: the IMAX dome. An IMAX dome measures 30 meters, and it’s a hemispherical wonder that engulfs the whole theater.
This information may seem tangential, but it isn’t. It speaks directly to which are the best seats in the IMAX theater.
By design, both the stadium-screen IMAX and the dome fill movie-goers’ whole field of vision. IMAX theaters create an immersive experience that sometimes feels so real that film-goers sometimes get sick. This is because the whole IMAX experience tricks the brain into thinking that the body is moving.
IMAX is short for “Image MAXimum.” Given its size, the IMAX screen definitely fits its name.
Seeing a 15/70 Movie
If you’re going for large, it doesn’t get any bigger than IMAX film, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Its measurement comes in at three times the size of standard 70mm film. It’s an impressive 10 times larger than your average 35mm film. (This, by the way, is the film used in a regular movie house.)
People call the IMAX film format the 15/70. Basically, the frame on this film measures 70mm high by 15 perforations wide. These dimensions contribute to the clarity of IMAX films.
Because of the size and heaviness of the 15/70 film, film operators can’t use a standard projector to show an IMAX movie. According to the Grand Canyon website, if you have a truck to pull, just get out some IMAX film. It’s strong enough to do the job.
In a normal 35mm showing, the film gets fed through the projector at the top of it. A special sprocket or claw pulls the film through the projector.
That isn’t what happens with the IMAX projector, however. A vacuum system sucks the film onto a piece of glass, so that each picture gets positioned onto the lens.
Additionally, the film isn’t pulled vertically through the projector as it would be with a 35mm projector. Rather, its format is horizontal, due to the heaviness of the film. Additionally, the shutter on the IMAX projector remains open for a longer period of time than the shutter on the 35mm projector.
Additionally, the weight of the IMAX projector is nothing short of awesome. It weighs as much as a small car does. This isn’t an exaggeration. An IMAX projector comes in at two tons. The light in the projector is of equal power. If you were to shine the light of one of the IMAX’s 15,000-watt lamps from the moon, you’d see the light on Earth.
Shooting an IMAX Film: Camera Facts
While the IMAX camera isn’t quite the size of a car, it is very large and very heavy. It comes in at 240 pounds and requires special rigging and different kinds of supports to move it from place to place. The 35mm camera looks puny by comparison. It only weighs in at a mere 40 pounds.
It would also be quieter to stand in the midst of a hurricane. That is to say, IMAX cameras produce a lot of sound and not all of it is pleasant.
The film runs at 48 frames per second. This doubles the run rate of the standard 35mm film. This also contributes to an IMAX film’s clarity.
3D IMAX cameras also count as a special breed. Only two of them exist in the world. This makes any kind of “down” production day very expensive, to the tune of $100,000 a day, expensive.
Sound Design in an IMAX Theater
It isn’t just the picture that immerses the audience in the experience. The sound does, too. The depth and clarity that arises from the audio comes from a patented technology. Some of the sound projects from behind the screen. Some comes from the back of the theater.
Additionally, an IMAX theater comes equipped with 44 speakers, putting the theater’s amplification, sound processing, and speaker design front and center in the experience.
Theatrical Seating in the IMAX
IMAX theatres feature steeply-raked seating decks. This makes looking up and down the screen more comfortable. Even a small child gets an unobstructed view.
Final Thoughts on Where to Sit in the IMAX Theater
So many factors dictate what makes a great experience at the IMAX. Despite the size and the manufacturer’s intent to create an immersive theater experience, there are still limitations to the IMAX. In other words, some seating is better than others. This is usually in the center of the theater.
However, in today’s market, you can select your seat ahead of time, by viewing a map of the theater. In light of that, if you have a choice, then choose the center of the theater for the best overall experience at the IMAX.