DEC 2011 UPDATE 1: Filmed in IMAX, Not Screened in IMAX -or- Marbles Gets Screwed Again

Here’s the 411:

My friends in the Raleigh, NC area are not too pleased.  They’re big comic fans and because the Wachovia IMAX Theater at the Marbles Kids Museum, one of the best performing DMR theaters in the South, switched to IMAX digital projection earlier this year, there’ll be no Dark Knight Rises Prologue this weekend.  In fact, nowhere in the state at all.

A small price to pay for going digital.

But imagine that there’s a filmmaker who’s spent years in a tank trying to film the impossible with an IMAX camera and you can’t even get the film in your IMAX theater.

It happened to Marbles.  This is an actual screenshot from facebook:

Tornado Alley did open in Raleigh almost three months later, complete with a visit by filmmaker Sean Casey and his Tornado Intercept Vehicle (TIV).   But instead of opening at the IMAX, it opened at a theater only a ten minute walk away.

I’ll explain what happened in Raleigh and how this signifies a radical change in direction for the giant screen industry after these other brief updates:

  • While television ads continue to tout a Dec 21 date for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in both conventional and IMAX theaters, most IMAX theaters (and Cinemark’s XD theaters) are opening the film at midnight on the 16th, with some actually having added shows as early as 6pm on the 15th.
  • I was fortunate enough to meet ever so briefly with Tammy Martin Thurmon, Kelly Germain, and Eileen Pheiffer during their site visit to Sacramento last week.  In addition to Sacramento, the “matron saints of the GSCA” have also over the past three months visited St Paul, Austin, Ft Worth, Poitiers, Paris, Baltimore, San Jose, and Jackson Hole.  These ladies are so busy keeping the organization in top shape that I understand Mrs. Thurmon had to integrate her wedding engagement moment into a business trip.  Congrats!
  • This week, I joined the staff of InPark Magazine as Online News Editor.  Unlike The Kinotech Blog, which is where I share my thoughts and observations, IPM is a fantastic outlet for you to share the latest news and developments about your company or organization.  If you are involved in the themed entertainment and attractions industries, please send your press releases to
  • The rumors that Mike Slee is embedded with US Army Infantry troops on the Afghan frontlines are true.  But it’s not what you think.

Now back to Tornado Alley.  The film opened on Oct 29 at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, officially inaugurating the museum’s new WRAL 3D Theater.

So here’s the game changer: the company that sold and installed the theater system at Natural Sciences is D3D, a sister company to Giant Screen Films, the distributor of Tornado Alley.

Now, I’m not going to speculate about the relationship between Giant Screen Films and the Marbles Kids Museum.  That’s not what this post’s about.  It’s about what happens when theaters in close proximity start to compete.

In 1973, the second permanent IMAX theater (and first IMAX dome) opened at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego’s Balboa Park.  For almost thirty years, it was the only giant screen theater in the area (not including the Centro Cultural Tijuana which opened in 1982 but caters to a much different crowd on the other side of the international border).  In 2001, the San Diego Museum of Natural History, located on the other side of a decorative fountain from the Fleet, underwent a major expansion, adding an Iwerks Extreme Screen theater.

When I spoke with the management of the Fleet a number of years back, they didn’t consider Natural History to be competition.  After all, the theater had been built to show one film, Ocean Oasis, which had been produced by the museum.  Since the theater switched to digital projection with Dolby 3D in 2009, programming has changed somewhat.  In addition to Ocean Oasis, the theater is showing two films from 3D Entertainment, Sea Rex and Sharks 3D, both of which the Fleet is not set up to show in 3D.  Meanwhile, the Fleet is showing two nature films exclusive to IMAX systems, Born to be Wild and Under the Sea.  Five giant screen nature films at two institutions a thirty-second walk from each other.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  What’s happening in Raleigh is something bigger.  If my intuition’s right, over the next few years companies, such as Giant Screen Films/D3D and National Geographic, that are involved with both theater system sales or branding AND film distribution will make their product exclusive or available for priority booking much the way IMAX currently does.*  Additionally, other film distributors will partner into exclusive deals with system providers such as Dolby, REALD, or XpanD.

As current giant screen projection technology finds itself reliant on conventional cinema hardware and software, distributors will take full advantage in multiplatforming their products with minimal modification.  It’s already started.  Films that are shown in 1570 and smaller digital 3D theaters are also finding their way to full dome digital planetariums and, in some cases, conventional cinemas as well.

In the conventional cinema world, media providers, such as National CineMedia, Cinedigm, Screenvision, and REALD, are differentiating themselves from one another by offering exclusive content only to those who subscribe to their networks (or purchase their systems).  What’s in the process of happening in the giant screen/immersive cinema industry has the potential to cause not only great rifts within the industry, but between distributors and their existing exhibition clients.

Raleigh’s the first.  Institutions that potentially could be impacted by such a development, by having a digital 3D theater or planetarium installed either next door or a short distance away, include the California Science Center, the Franklin Institute of Science, and even the Smithsonian.  It makes perfect sense.  Lisa Truitt of National Geographic Cinema Ventures said, “Our goal is to help museums turn their existing theaters, live lecture halls or auditoriums into digital cinemas that will drive both attendance and new museum revenues with entertaining National Geographic movies aligned with the mission of the museum.”  So why not start with this one?







Grosvenor Auditorium, National Geographic Society, Washington DC

Well, that’s it for now.  I’m off to turn on my Panasonic digital TV which I bought for the exclusive AVATAR 3D blu-ray in order to watch Transformers 2 which I had to buy at Walmart to get the exclusive aspect ratio change for the IMAX scenes.  Exclusivity can really suck.



*Regarding a previous post indicating that IMAX had discontinued distrbuting films to non-IMAX theaters, James Hyder of the LF Examiner writes:

[As far as I know], Imax has never directly distributed any of its films to non-IMAX   theaters of any kind, 8/70, 10/70, or 15/70….Imax made a sub-distribution  deal with MFF to do that. Later, a similar deal was made for Cosmic Voyage,   because it was supported with an NSF grant, which required maximum  exploitation….According to my records, [Cosmic Voyage] and [Destiny in Space] had 8/70 bookings as recently as 2009 and 2010, respectively.  I don’t show any 8/70 bookings of [Blue Planet], but it and the other two were under the deal I mentioned.

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