Many of you will already be IMAX fans. If you are you can skip the next paragraph or two.

The bfi London IMAX cinema, near Waterloo station.IMAX is a film format that's much larger than conventional film (each frame is the height of a 70mm frame), offering much better picture quality than you'll see in your local fleapit. IMAX films are shown on special projectors on a huge screen (the one at Waterloo is eighty-five feet wide, and five stories high, with a six-channel audio system capable of delivering a jaw-dropping 12,000 watts of digital sound). Additionally, IMAX theatres are designed so that every seat has an uninterrupted view of the screen, enabling viewers to completely fill their field of vision with the movie. 

Generally IMAX theatres screen short films, usually documentaries, especially-shot to take full advantage of the stunning picture quality offered by the format. A new technique called IMAX DMR (IMAX Digital Remastering) has enabled conventional 35mm films to be transferred to IMAX format. The process involves scanning the 35mm film, frame-by-frame, in high resolution. Then the image is treated using proprietary image-enhancement software tools, and transferred to IMAX format. The audio is remastered for the IMAX format, too. Unlike the sound in conventional cinemas, IMAX audio is uncompressed, and offers full dynamic range.

A couple of Disney animated films have been transferred to IMAX format using the DMR process, and now they're joined by a live-action Hollywood blockbuster: The Matrix Reloaded.

So... how does The Matrix Reloaded look, on the giant IMAX screen? It's simply astonishing, especially considering that the film probably wasn't designed to be seen in such clarity and detail. The size of everything is almost overwhelming. It's likely to cause conniptions amongst actors and - especially - actresses, whose every pore, wrinkle and blemish is magnified to enormous proportions (and, in the case of Laurence Fishburne, it ain't pretty!) The film features many shots which convey cavernous locations, which look spectacular, especially considering that many of them were probably computer-generated. 

Watching a film on such a large screen certainly engages the senses to a degree that an ordinary presentation isn't able to match. In some shots there's something going on in every square foot of the screen, forcing the eyes to travel all over the screen. Simple close ups are fascinating, enabling the viewer to experience their idols in a whole new way. Two-shots seem like you're standing right next to the characters. And the action scenes? Wow! "Spectacular" doesn't really begin to do it justice. 

The film's audio mix is beautifully reproduced. There's so much power that the sound is all-enveloping, without feeling that the equipment is being strained, or - a common fault in even the best West End cinemas - that the venue itself is adding it's own acoustic distortions to the mix.

There are minor flaws to the format, although you'll need a very keen eye to spot most of them. There are occasional signs of compression (areas of the picture not moving quite as naturally as they should, and a slight pulsing on some picture details). I stress again, though, that 99% of viewers probably wouldn't notice them. More obvious are the shortcomings of the film itself. These include some shots with obvious CGI enhancement, which would probably escape drawing attention to themselves on a conventional screen. They'd probably be eliminated entirely if a film was produced knowing that it will end up on IMAX screens. (Some extra texture and detail was added to presentations of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast for their IMAX engagements, for example). The other problem I noticed was film dirt, which seemed to accumulate as the film unspooled. Tiny dust particles would go unnoticed in a conventional presentation, but amplified by the IMAX process, they're sometimes very distracting, especially as the rest of the image is virtually flawless (grain levels are about the same as you'd expect from an ordinary movie presentation).

I'd thoroughly recommend seeing The Matrix Reloaded on the IMAX screen if you have the opportunity, even if you've already seen it in an ordinary cinema (and, after seeing the IMAX version, it will seem like a very ordinary cinema!). Sadly, it seems that the film will mainly be shown in London only. 

Hopefully The Matrix Reloaded will be the first of many A-Grade blockbusters that will be shown in the IMAX format (where do I sign to see the Lord of the Rings trilogy?!)

For more details about the bfi London IMAX cinema, visit the website, or contact the box office on 020 7902 1234. Tickets are 11.50, with concessions at 10.50. The film will be screened between the 4th of July to the 26th of October. (Visit the website for more details)









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