Went to the IMAX in Bradford last night to see the Dark Knight. My opinion of the current crop of Batman movies is that while they are enjoyable romps and I like the dark edge they have they still pander to the child, getting a little bit lost in places where they fall down on the side of a joke or a gratuitous action scene rather than daring to be complex. I hope this might come in time. That said, the film was an awesome spectacle.
The experience of Batman on an IMAX screen reminded me how strange it was that cinema has ended up where it has. Considering the efforts cinema has gone to over the years to differentiate itself from television it’s bizarre that we’ve ended up in a multiplex world of reletively small screens and more intimate theatres. Going to see a movie in IMAX really offers something that’s currently out of reach of home cinema’s plasma screens and surround sound. Sweeping over Gotham in front of a 50 foot curved screen you experience almost total immersion, so suspension of disbelief is easy. As far as I was concerned watching that movie, Batman’s real, Gotham’s real and having gone to see the movie at 5pm I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t the middle of the night and I wasn’t surrounded by vertigo inducing skyscrapers.
But even with it’s total immersion, 3D capabilities and awesome sound experiences the IMAX is in danger of being thwarted by the home market. Companies like ezGear and RelaxView are already offering the potential for a potentially stereoscopic experience. Once you’ve got these on and your headphones plugged in you can pretty much have a totally immerssive experience by just plugging into your iPod while you’re on the bus. Ok, so ezVision4 and RelaxView4 currently only support a 640×480 resolution and a 150cm screen set a virtual 3 meters away from you, but if there’s one thing you know about technology it’s that we’re only a few years off these being almost wholly immersive at a fantastic resolution. And when that happens, voila, IMAX experience on the bus time.
It’s ironic that the National Media Museum in Bradford, the home of Europe’s first IMAX screen, is pretty much next door to the old decaying ODEON cinema. When I was a kid Odean 2 was the best regular cinema experience, short of going and standing in a Cinema 2000 or something. The Odeon had 70mm facilities, but what was really special about a trip to the cinema wasn’t the size of the screen, but the size of the audotorium. They say you know a great cinema experience when the audience clap, and they clapped for Batman last night, but it was a polite golf clap from the handful of people that can fit in the theatre. When they clapped in the Odean 2, you knew about it because there was something like 1,207 people sat there.
So are we going to be able to (and would you even want to) recreate that shared experience at home (or on the bus)? You could link into an simultaneously watch a movie over the ‘net and get piped everyone’s jeers and crisp packet rustles. You could even be asked to stand up occassionally to let someone get past you or be hit on the back of the head by some virtual popcorn. I don’t see why not really. I guess I don’t expect films to be experienced this way, but as these immersive specs get better it brings us one step closer to Neal Stephenson’s vision of the internet as MetaVerse and the idea of the virtual theatre or, especially stadium isn’t so crazy. Granted, though, the entertainment’s more likely to be virtual WWE battles rather than a Nick Roeg classic.