Having been on the East Coast for the past year, I was unable to attend the TRON Legacy events at Comicon and Wondercon. The 23 minutes I experienced in IMAX last night made up for that. The presentation was split into four key segments: Sam Flynn discovering the MCP computer in a hidden basement of his father’s arcade, Sam’s capture by replicator and initiation into the world of the grid, an incredible disc battle, and Sam’s escape and reunion with his father.

The first sequence, which took up a good portion of the presentation, was 2D. We were told this in a disclaimer at the start of the show from director Joe Kosiniski, who asked us to keep our glasses on as even this portion of the film was designed to be seen with glasses. I’m not one to follow instructions very well, so I watched that portion without my glasses. It appeared that there was a light 3D modification to the 2D image, but not enough to make a huge difference. It reminded me a bit of the real world scenes in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, where the 3D exaggeration was minimized. I have a sneaking suspicion that Tim Sassoon may have been involved in this as well. Traditionally, in a film-based IMAX theatre, black film would be used to cover one eye and produce a 2D image in a partial 3D film. However, I’ve checked with projectionists that ran the TRON Night footage in 15/70 and they’ve all confirmed that both prints projected images the entire 23 minutes.

This 2D/3D juxtaposition is nothing new. It has long been used in fantasy films to exaggerate the fantasy element and separate it from reality. I’ve mentioned Alice in Wonderland, but I can recall it being used as far back as Nightmare on Elm Street 6. Before 3D, the juxtaposition was accomplished with color. Pale or drab colors would be used for the real world and vivid, bright ones for the fantasy realm. Victor Fleming and King Vidor mastered this in 1939 with the Wizard of Oz, where Kansas was in sepia and Oz in Technicolor. It’s somewhat the same conceit used at the start of This is Cinerama, where the curtain only partially opens and stays on mark for the introduction before expanding to showcase the entire screen in all its majesty.

The visuals in TRON are crisp and clear. The images were streamlined and were nowhere as overwhelming as Avatar. By design, the costumes, sets and vehicles take their cue from the original, but there is something modernistic about them. What we saw on-screen almost had the clean, white aesthetic of Kubrik’s 2001. Lightening swirls above the land. And if there’s anything we’ve learned from Disney movies, lightning is never a good sign.

I’m not certain how to describe this film. I can’t compare it to Avatar, because they really are two different creatures. At times, my mind’s eye crept back to CyberWorld, Hugh Murray’s 2000 experiment in converting CGI to IMAX 3D. If Phig were human, she’d be played by Olivia Wilde.

But all was not well in the world of TRON. Frankly, that theater, the Regal El Dorado Hills, near Sacramento, sucked. I went with a good friend of mine who had been a manager at the Esquire IMAX Theatre when we opened it a decade ago. We were shocked at the small size of the screen.

It is, in many cases, next to impossible to get screen sizes for the multiplex theaters. IMAX long away (perhaps after the shock of the public when Hartford’s screen size was released) replaced actual dimensions with the phrase “floor to ceiling, wall to wall.” This screen was not wall to wall as there was a huge gap to the right of the screen in order to accommodate an emergency exit.

I computed the screen to be about thirty-five feet high and fifty feet across. This screen came nowhere the GSCA specifications for a giant screen. I also found it troubling when the facilitator for the event was urging people not to sit in the first five rows since the image would be “horrible.”

All was not bad, however. The image and sound quality were on a par with DMR presentations in 15/70 theaters. But although we loved the quality of the presentation and the material we watched, the environment in which we watched it made us feel unsatisfied. At my IMAX in Columbus, GA, I had a 1.9K DLP projector and when I ran regular DVD’s, the effect was much more immersive than what I experienced last night. Why? Because I was projecting onto a giant 54 x 70 screen in a traditional IMAX box auditorium, with steeped seating, a pit, and a high ceiling. Conventional theater seating and a conventional movie screen, no matter how close it’s moved toward the audience, just doesn’t cut it as the full IMAX Experience.

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