Well, I did it. I saw Beowulf in IMAX 3D. It cost me $17.50, which included the Fandango service charge (I knew it would sell out, even for a 1:45 showtime on a Monday afternoon). And guess what? I don't think the price was worth the experience. Maybe it would have been worth a regular ticket price ($11), but I'm not even sure about that.
Now, here is not the place for me to discuss the actual movie. Both Scott Weinberg and James Rocchi have already delivered you their reviews, and I think their thoughts were sufficient. This is also not the place for me to discuss the box office -- which was relatively disappointing considering its budget, yet relatively successful in terms of the per screen average of its 3D screens (I may comment on the 3D box office later).
Instead, this is the place for me to comment on the experience of Beowulf's exhibition in the IMAX 3D format. First, I'd like to apologize for not being able to afford the money or the time to see the regular 2D version, or even the non-IMAX 3D presentation, either via Real D or Dolby Digital's technology. I can just barely compare this to my prior experience with Real D 3D, which I've raved about and have honestly championed as a possible future for the success of cinemas. Fortunately it's the non-IMAX technologies that will end up in most theaters, since not every screen in the world can be an IMAX.
As I detail my complaints with the IMAX 3D system, I must point out that not every viewer has likely had the same problems as I have had. I know I'm picky, I know I'm critical, I know I act spoiled; but with such a promise for and claim of greatness, I'd rather point out that I expect better. Also, as is the case in any product test, this experience could have been a fluke. But even if so, I expect better.
My first issue is with the glasses. One of the significant attractions of the new 3D technology is that the glasses are supposed to be better than those old cardboard, blue/red frames of the past. Aside from having better technology for the lenses, though, they should also be more comfortable than the analog glasses. They aren't. However, this is not a complaint about all digital 3D glasses. I really love Real D's glasses, which look and feel just like Ray-Ban sunglasses.
In contrast, the IMAX glasses look and feel cheaper. For one thing, they look like those giant novelty sunglasses that clowns wear. They feel like them, too. I think I understand why they are so big: the IMAX screen is so big and you need lenses that cut off as much peripheral distraction as possible and allow you to see as much of the screen as you are able. Fine, but then they need better support. The temples (the part of eyeglasses that go from the lenses to the ears) are long, thin plastic things that are either supposed to go on top of your ears -- as with most glasses -- or they are supposed to wrap around your head. I'm not sure of the proper way to wear them, but the wrap-around way seemed to make the most sense. However, either way felt awkward and uncomfortable.
Then there's the issue of my lenses being scratched, which I think may have caused the image to distort a bit for me. And I'm guessing that a lot of the lenses get scratched, because they are cheaply made, and they are stored badly. Plus, you have to return them to the theater after the show (I've been allowed to keep the Real D glasses, which cinemas claimed I was purchasing along with the ticket -- hence the added cost). So, they're probably recycled to new viewers, and will eventually become more and more scratched. Or we're just simply not allowed to keep them, and they're thrown out, which is just as more annoying because of the waste.
The next complaint is possibly related to the quality of the glasses, or at least to the scratch. More likely, though, it's related primarily to the quality of the technology. While watching Beowulf, I kept seeing a ghosting effect, which is when there's a ghost-like blur or doubling of the image. This pretty much only happened in the scenes in Grendel and Grendel's Mother's lair, which maybe had to do with the way the animation of those parts. But did everyone else see the same ghosting? I haven't heard about any other complaints, which means it could have just been my glasses -- perhaps due to the scratches? -- or the position of my seat.
If it's the glasses, well, I already addressed my problem with them. If it's the seat, then I'm still unforgiving. Sure, I did get to the theater in the nick of time and had to settle for a seat far to the right of the auditorium. I'm certainly aware that my experience could have been better had I sat in the center (I could have felt like I was inside the movie, as Mick LaSalle felt). But none of this is an excuse. Unless you charge more for the better seats, a la Broadway, etc., then fine. However, if you promise a certain experience, you must allow for all customers to have that same experience. Either the technology needs to be improved, or IMAX needs to have fewer seats. I'm sure the former is too costly and the latter is thought to be a ridiculous suggestion to theater owners. Okay, but there might one day be the alienation of all those people who ever sat in the wrong seats.
Finally, I have a huge issue with the increase of price for 3D movies, which includes the IMAX 3D movies. For one thing, I think the increase of price on all 3D movies makes it seem less like you're going to the movies, and more like you're going to something at an amusement park. This makes it out to support the criticism that digital 3D is simply a gimmick. And I'll be the first to agree that it isn't simply a gimmick, nor is it a fad. But the way Beowulf is being handled, it definitely appears like it is both. As for IMAX 3D, I've noticed that some theaters are charging more for this movie than for other IMAX films, even other 3D IMAX films. And of course, the IMAX prices are already a bit more than regular movies.
One day, I will probably give IMAX 3D another chance. I may be cynical, but I never dismiss or write off something completely. For awhile, though, I'm going to stick to the Real D experience, even though I'll still be complaining about the price increase. Anyway, in a year and a half, when Dreamworks' Monsters vs. Aliens and James Cameron's Avatar, and the rest of the big-deal 3D movies of 2009 come our way, the 4,000 to 6,000 3D screens Hollywood is expecting will be primarily Real D and Dolby Digital brand screens. I just hope those companies, in the attempt to expand, don't plan on cutting their costs in any way that will sacrifice our experience.