IMAX is back baby! A couple of years ago, IMAX was a regular feature here in sunny SA. But then it closed down and Kervyn never stopped crying since that fateful final day. But it’s coming back, and in the age of the revitalised Hollywood blockbuster, it’s about damn time.
Thing is though, what will prevent this format of extra-massive filmwatching from eventually going bust again? I spoke to Ster Kinekor’s Marketing Executive Doug Place yesterday about this, location, technology and pricing. And the news was good.
First off, if you haven’t seen an IMAX film, it’s more than just a big screen to watch movies on. As Doug explained to me, everything about an IMAX theatre is different. “We’re still in the building stage at the moment. IMAX corporation has minimum requirements for a screen size in order for you to call it an IMAX screen,” Place said.
And it’s not just about the size of the screen as well, it’s a whole different sound system, the screen is a convex screen, wall to wall and so it’s not just another really big flat normal cinema screen. Well the proprietary technology belongs to IMAX, it is a specific sound format that really enhances the immersive nature of the film. All cinema sound is industry leading, but IMAX takes it further. You can play normal sound through it, but for feature films, the IMAX process has a lot more speakers and a lot more immersive sound.
That’s technology that will be seen not only around you, but underneath you as well in the seating. For IMAX, you’re going to want to be as close as possible to the big screen, and Place told me that the first Ster Kinekor IMAX cinema in Durban at the Gateway mall will feature such special seating.
Films will also run between 3D and 2D formats, a decision that isn’t made by Ster Kinekor but by the filmmakers. But 2D will be present, for those of you who prefer that format. “Yeah absolutely, definitely. That’s more a decision by the filmmakers than by us. Because the biggest Hollywood titles are now coming out with IMAX format, and the big films tend to be 3D,” Place said.
But there are 2D pictures, such as the Hunger Games Catching Fire, and we’ve got Thor: The Dark World, and then back to 3D for the next Hobbit. We’re still trying to find out from Warner if they’re going to do IMAX in HFR (Higher Frame-Rate Resolution) as well, which was used in the first part of the Hobbit trilogy is making a return, but we’re still in discussions with Warner about that as well.
IMAX has also changed over the years. It’s a film format that has switched from bulky and hard to ship 70mm film to digital, which will mean quicker releases for new movies around the country. IMAX films will be released on the same international day as the rest of the world or even sooner by a few hours Place said, like what happened last year with the Avengers. But thanks to digital technology, film releases on the whole will be more in line with international dates.
So you’ve got a big screen, a higher resolution, comfy seating and sound that’ll shatter your spine when the familiar THX logo plays. You’d expect that to cost an arm and a leg right? Well more good news then, because SK is going to be offering prices for IMAX that make it pretty damn tempting. SK is looking to make ticket prices less than a hundred of your Randelas. “We’re still putting that together, and all the normal discount programs will apply, half-price Tuesday, Edgars etcetera. But we’re hoping for it to be less than a hundred bucks,” Place said.
Durban gets the first IMAX cinema later this year, with talk of Jozi also joining in on the action. Naturally, when we spoke about this last week, Cape Town cried out in one massive voice “What about us?”, something that SK must have heard. “We’re definitely working on it,” Place explained.
The major challenge we have is an architectural one, because the screen is just so big. And that’s one of the discussions we have with various landlords and finding ourselves working on at the moment. But definitely, we’re looking to take it all over the country, wherever we can find a space and where there is commercial viability to put it in.
The Gateway cinema is the biggest complex in the country and has been forever, so the commercial viability there is better than say Blue Route Mall for example, and other suburbs of Cape Town. But it’s definitely going to be more than one, while the first one will be the easiest for us to do and make the most commercial sense. And we’re learning from this and going forward with other sites around the country.
One concern that I did have though, was if IMAX was actually worth the enormous amounts of cash that is being pumped into it. Could the market react warmly to IMAX and make it flourish? It certainly can, with the plans that Ster Kinekor has in mind for the format. “IMAX was not run by Ster Kinekor previously, it was owned by a seperate company,” Place told me.
And a few years ago it was limited largely to film-based media, it wasn’t digital which meant that there wasn’t enough Hollywood content coming through to make the business model sustainable. So a higher ticket price for a 15 year old to go watch a short film documentary wasn’t really a sustainable business economy. There wasn’t enough IMAX content out.
Really between January and July next year, there are 25 feature films that have been greenlit for IMAX, so we’ll be able to show a film every two weeks at least. We’ve also had discussions with IMAX regarding Bollywood, products like the Metallica: Through the Never film to have an IMAX release as well, so there’s a lot more variety now than in the IMAX of five or six years ago.
I’ll be honest. If Metallica: Through the Never makes it to the IMAX screen, I’m flying up to Durban just so that I can go watch it. Ster Kinekor has a solid strategy in place here, and it’s clear that they’ve done their homework on how to IMAX a winner in this country. In two months, the format returns, and I’m looking forward to it.
Last Updated: September 5, 2013