Regardless of whether one thinks the human story of Godzilla, King of the Monsters is big enough to hold its own alongside the monsters, the action and special effects are spectacular - exactly the sort of audio-visual feast that deserves to be seen on the big screen. And not just on any big screen. The film is being presented in a number of special formats that enhance the viewing and listening experience in ways that are remarkable and amazing - and worth the hike in ticket price. Here is a rundown of the most notable.
Godzilla in IMAX 2D
IMAX is - or at least used to be - a special film format, which used 70mm celluloid running through a projector horizontally, creating an image of startling clarity even when filling the enormous IMAX screen. However, like many recent releases, the new Godzilla film was not shot in IMAX; consequently, the image does not fill the entire screen, the rectangular shape of which emphasizes height more than width. It's a bit like watching a widescreen movie in letterbox format on an old, conventional television screen, with black bars at the top and bottom of the image.
Even so, Godzilla looks suitable gargantuan in this format. The screen is so huge that it fills almost the entire field of vision for every viewer, regardless of where they sit. The effect is immersive, especially because the IMAX presentation is so sharp that the result feels like looking at reality through an enormous window. Enhanced with pulse-pulverizing sound, scenes of destruction and monster battles are truly overwhelming.
It perhaps goes without saying, but a key impact of any Godzilla movie is to convey the incredible scale of the beast. IMAX achieves that.
Warning: Most so-called IMAX screens are not actually IMAX; they are contemptuously known as "Lie-MAX" of "Faux-MAX," because their screens are not the size and proportions of true IMAX, not do the theatres features the steep stadium seating that provides an unimpeded view of the screen. If you want a true IMAX experience, go to the AMC Theatre at Universal City.
Note: The designation "IMAX 2D" does not indicate a special kind of IMAX format. In recent years, feature-length IMAX presentations have tended to be in 3D. This one is not.
Godzilla in 3D
3D offers the illusion of depth, but as with IMAX, few films today are shot in a 3D process; instead, they are digitally converted to 3D in post-production. The results today are quite good in terms of creating images that simulate dimensionality without creating the sort of eyestrain-inducing blur associated with old-school analog 3D photography. The only drawback is that films shot conventionally do not frame and stage their action to exploit the third dimension.
In the case of Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the stereoscopic conversion creates a mild illusion of depth that separates foreground, midground, and background objects. It also provides some roundness to the look of characters settings and props (unlike 3D conversions from ten years ago, which created a "Viewmaster" effect that resembled flat cutout figures separated from their backgrounds).
This sense of depth enhances the impression of size. In two dimensional photography, there is sometimes very little difference in appearance between a large object viewed at a distance and a small object viewed up close (in fact, old-fashioned miniature effects exploited this fact to create the illusion of full-sized objects). Adding the third dimension sustains the illusion that Godzilla, Ghidorah, Rodan, Mothra, and the other Titans are colossal, even when they are in the distant background and the humans in the foreground take up as much or more of the screen.
Unfortunately, the tantalizing possibilities inherent in using 3D not only to suggest depth into the screen but also objects coming out of the screen are absent here. Rodan and Mothra do not fly out of the screen. Ghidorah's snake-like heads do not extend forward into the audience. And Godzilla's radioactive breath will not blast directly into your face.
Several theatres are projecting the film in either Digital 3D or Real 3D. The kinks involved in 3D presentations have mostly been worked out, so any decent first-run theatre should provide a good presentation of this format. A few will offer additional enhancements, discussed below.
Godzilla in MX4D
MX4D is one of several brand names (D-Box, 4DX) associated with motion-simulated seating and in-theatre effects designed to make you not only see and hear a movie but also feel it. Often, though not always, these experiential presentations are coupled with 3D (as with Prime 3D at AMC) in order to create something close to a virtual reality simulation. It should go without saying that none of these is an actual film format; they are enhancements designed for theatrical screening rooms.
MX4D adds an incredible amount to Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Like Sensurround (which rattled viewers watching Earthquake in the 1970s), MX4D creates impact vibrations (in this case representing the footfalls of the Titans), but it also does far more. The special seats create an illusion of motion, starting with the opening frames: as the camera glides over the company logos (Legendary, Warner Bros.), viewers feels as if they, too, are gliding; combined with the 3D imagery, the sense of floating is quite amazing, though fortunately not enough to cause vertigo.
Later, wafting breezes suggest a sense of space, which magnifies into brusque airblasts when Mothra spits her thread at attackers. When machine gun fire erupts on screen, strobe lights in-theatre synchronize with the shooting. Taking physical effects to almost campy levels, the seats contain rotors rather like massage devices, which goose viewers when they're supposed to feel the impact of a monster or a building tumbling over. Destructive blasts are accompanied by monofilaments whipping the backside of the audience's shins.
Overall, the impact is ridiculously enjoyable; outrageous but not excessive, it never wears out its welcome. After seeing Godzilla, King of the Monsters, a regular theatrical screening (let alone home video) would seem tame indeed.
The Chinese TCL theatre (the multiplex, not the original Chinese Theatre) combines 3D with its MX4D presentation. The theatre contains only five rows of seating, but it is surprisingly spacious, with a large screen that fills most of one's field of vision. Tickets are more expensive than for IMAX 2D or simple 3D screenings but worth the price.
Godzilla in ScreenX (updated)
The new Godzilla film is being presented in ScreenX at the CGV Cinemas LA in Koreatown and Buena Park. Screen X immerses viewers by supplementing the primary screen with images projected on the left and right walls, creating a sense of being surrounded by the action: when buildings topple, you feel as if you are beside the hapless characters dodging the rubble.
Godzilla, King of the Monster was not filmed in ScreenX; as far as I know, no film is. Instead, the process is employed in post-production, using CGI to create the footage for the left and right screens, which is meant to fill the audience's peripheral vision rather than be viewed directly, with all the significant action restricted to the central screen. Consequently, ScreenX is, for the most part, not exploited to place (for example) King Ghidorah's left head on the left screen, his center head on the center screen, and his right head on the right screen, though some of the wilder shots do come close: there are a few moments when Ghidorah's spread wings extend onto the side screens, creating an ominous sense of being enveloped by the creature's physical presence.
The process is also effective at rendering long-take moving camera shots, such as the low-angle scene in Fenway Park in which Mark (Kyle Chandler) dodges the Godzilla-Ghidorah battle while searching for his daughter. Most impressive are extreme long shots of enormous vistas (Rodan emerging from a volcano, Ghidorah and Godzilla squaring off on the Antarctic tundra), for which the extra screens extend the image, creating a you-are-there feel.
Occasionally, the process makes the original camera movements seem unnecessary. When Mothra, in her larva stage, pins someone to the wall with her web, the camera pans to keep the action on the center screen, when it would have looked better to simply hold the camera stead and let the action fly from the center to the right screen.
Only the monster scenes are presented in ScreenX; character interaction and even non-monster effects scenes are shown on center screen only. This is unfortunate, because the nuclear submarine's slow passage through the mysterious Antlantean ruins would have benefited from being shown on all three screens. Fortunately, the sequence switches to ScreenX for Dr. Serizawa's solo pilgrimage through the submerged city, culminating with his encounter with Godzilla.
Ultimately, ScreenX intensifies the film's Titanic action scenes far beyond what audiences would experience in a conventional presentation, but the results could have been even better if the film has been shot with ScreenX in mind - perhaps with alternate takes for the version screened in the process, allowing the action to move from screen-to-screen instead of having the camera panning left and right to follow. In any case, the novelty of the presentation is worth the price of admission for those seeking an enhanced viewing experience.
Note: Godzilla, King of the Monsters is scheduled to play in ScreenX at the CGV Cinemas LA in Koreatown only through Thursday, June 6. It will continue in the process through next week at the CGV Buena Park 8. and at the Regal Edwards Irvine Spectrum.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters Special Format Ratings
The experience of viewing Godzilla, King of the Monsters was enhanced by all of the special presentations we sampled, but the winner was the combination of 3D and MX4D in-theatre effects at the Chinese TCL theatre.