It’s all a matter of aspect ratios. Typically, letterboxed IMAX films have fallen into three aspect ratios: The tighter anamorphic images have been presented in scope, or 2.39:1. This is around the aspect ratio for a digital cinema projector. 1.85:1 is the typical 35mm aspect ratio in the United States and the UK. Non-scope, or flat, animation and releases in Europe typically are at 1.66:1. On the IMAX screen, this last ratio produces letterbox bars about half the size of 1.85:1 films. The first Hollywood film to be released in the 1.66:1 ratio in IMAX was Fantasia 2000 on January 1, 2000. This aspect ratio has been confirmed with the studio.
TRON Legacy was filmed with SONY F-35 cameras on a Pace 3D rig. From what we can tell through seeing both the trailer in 1570 IMAX and the TRON Night preview in a digital IMAX, the 43 minutes of scenes that expand to 1.7:1 involve mostly CGI and green screen inserts. Now, that’s not to say that live action sets might not be involved. Years ago, at the 2003 or 2004 LFCA Conference in LA, IMAX’s David Keighley showcased 35mm stock footage that had been blown up to full IMAX size using DMR technology. The clip was included in Our Country, and it was difficult to tell from native IMAX footage.
So what will TRON Legacy look like on an IMAX screen? Here’s a quick run-through. A conventional television (4:3) has a ratio of 1.33:1. This is the same ratio used for Super 35 and many early 35mm films. Full screen 1570 IMAX is a bit tighter at 1.43:1. A typical widescreen computer monitor with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 has a ratio of 1.6:1. Fantasia 2000 was at 1.66:1. The widescreen video standard (16:9) is at 1.77:1. Most DMR releases are at 1.85:1 or 2.39:1.
Therefore, to establish a TRON image, we can expect the footage to enlarge from 2.39:1, or something resembling the current Harry Potter film, to 1.7:1, just smaller than Fantasia 2000’s image, but certainly larger than an image on your widescreen TV. Now, because of constraints on the projection equipment in MPX and digital auditoriums, this switch in aspect ratios will not be fully realized. This is because, according the LF Examiner article “The Shrinking IMAX Screen,” MPX projectors have an aspect ratio of 1.8:1 and the IMAX digital projectors only 1.9:1.
A good way to compare apples to oranges is to watch The Dark Knight at home. If you watch the blu-ray version of the film, the screen will expand from 2.39:1 to 1.77:1, just slightly larger than an MPX screen. If you watch the DVD, the special features on the 2-disc set includes the IMAX scenes. However, these are shown in full 1570 frame (4:3). You’ll notice the image expand from 2.39:1 to 1.33:1, which is quite different than what’s presented on the blu-ray version. Think of the blu-ray as MPX or digital IMAX and the DVD as 1570 IMAX. Again, as I did in my JimHillMedia.com piece, I cannot emphasize enough that if you want to get the full impact of the film, you must experience it in a film-based giant screen IMAX theater meeting the specifications of the GSCA’s certification program.