In the realm of “Oh, neat…” theatrical distribution news, Cineworld and CJ 4DPLEX just announced that they would be adding 100 additional ScreenX locations in ten major markets across America (via Regal Cinemas) and Europe. For those unaware, ScreenX is a theatrical format whereby (in specific sequences) the screen expands onto a second and third screen on the left and right of the middle screen. So, for example, in the second-act chase scene in Black Panther or the first-act Enterprise massacre in Star Trek Beyond, the image will expand to an immersive 270-degrees so that the action unfolds around you.
Seventy percent of these new auditoriums will be in the United States while the other 30% will be in Israel as well as the U.K. and other European countries. There is no set timetable on this expansion, but I was told that this wouldn’t be completed quite in time for the next big ScreenX release, the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp. Currently, there are only three ScreenX locations in the U.S. (two in Los Angeles and one in Las Vegas) and 139 overseas (86 screens in South Korea; 44 in China; four in Turkey; two in Vietnam and one in Thailand, Japan, and Indonesia).
So, this is a significant marketplace expansion for the emerging technology. I drove to Koreatown in February to see Black Panther for the second time specifically to sample this format (by the way, I would have seen Black Panther in theaters a third time if I could). It did work exactly as advertised. However, like a lot of the newfangled theatrical ideas, it ends up being the opposite of immersive since you’re aware when the screen expands in ScreenX or when your seat shakes or punches you in the back with D-Box or when you get splashed with water in 4DX, that you’re sitting in a theater and watching a movie.
There isn’t a single consumer who intentionally buys a ticket for ScreenX or 4DX or one of those Cinepolis Jr. playground auditoriums and doesn’t realize that they are making a trade-off. They are knowingly swapping a more “out-of-body” theatrical experience for something more approximating a theme park attraction. As long as the consumer knows that or knows that seeing a movie at one of the many in-theater dining theaters that have become the rage of late makes the theatrical experience closer to literal dinner theater, that’s okay.
I wish that theater chains, in general, would concentrate less on novelties and “enhancing” the theatrical experience. The underlying message is that merely seeing a movie in theaters in an old-school 2D, DLP theater isn’t enough. Instead (or along with) these novelty ideas, which can be fun (my favorite local multiplex is a local Studio Movie Grill), I wish they’d concentrate more on making sure that the conventional theatrical experience is something better (in terms of audio/visual quality and distraction-free atmosphere) than what consumers can get from their couch, but I digress.
You can have both. My local multiplex with the best audio/visual quality every time out is a (darn expensive) Cinepolis dinner theater. While ScreenX might not be my ideal way to see a movie, it is something I would dabble in if A) I knew the general audio/visual experience was going to be solid, B) the movie was worth seeing twice and C) if there was a relatively convenient location. While I still consider old-school 2D IMAX to be the best way to see a movie, I’m not immune to cheating on my beloveds with a little D-Box or ScreenX now and then.
I’d take the youngest to see the 118-minute Incredibles 2 in one of the Cinepolis Jr. theaters in a heartbeat (the two older kids and I had a lovely time with Boss Baby last year) if the nearest location wasn’t 90 minutes away. Moreover, if one of these new ScreenX theaters ends up at a nearby Regal over the next year, I’d happily give it another go the format arrives at a theater near me in time for The Nun, Aquaman or Shazam. The balance will be in expanding the possibilities for theatrical exhibition while not neglecting or downgrading old-fashioned movie theaters.
Sure, Avengers: Infinity War looked dynamite on that new Samsung DLP screen in Chatsworth. However, it also looked like what it was, going to a theater to watch a 4K HD version of a movie on an HDTV. It was fun getting sprayed by Aquaman in the 4DX version of Justice League and it was neat watching T’Challa chase Klaue in South Korea in 270 degrees, it’s not the same as watching a movie unspool before your eyes. We can debate whether it’s better or worse, and if the essentials are up to snuff then it’s a minor point, but it’s not the same.
Moreover, my concern, through no fault of those who develop and push these technologies to get folks back into theaters, is that they are disincentivizing the mere idea of seeing a movie in the theater.
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