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Watching Day the Earth Stood Still in IMAX

Over at Cinefantastique Online, I have already given the low-down on the artistic shortcomings of the new DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, which opens nationwide tomorrow. For this review, I want to follow-up on the “IMAX Experience” – that is, the pros and cons of seeing the film in one of its engagements at an IMAX theatre, which offers a football field-sized screen that really makes the spectacle loom larger than life. Much more than the 1951 version of DAY, the remake opts for special effects and action, which benefit from the big screen, so you may be tempted to choose this option, but I found the IMAX presentation of the film (at the press screening which took place at the AMC Century City 15 in Century City) to be slightly unsatisfying.

The problem – which is common to many IMAX presentations of feature films* – is that DAY was clearly not filmed in IMAX. It was shot in a conventional format and then blown-up to the larrger screen size. The tell-tale giveaway is that DAY has been “letterboxed” for the IMAX, with black bars at the top and the bottom of the screen, preserving a widescreen aspect ratio. (The tall IMAX screens emphasize height; their aspect ratio is closer to that of old movies and television sets, which feature an image that is closer to a square.)

Also, the Century City 15 seemed to be projecting a digital version of the film. Although this has advantages (the movie doesn’t get scratched and worn out from running through a projector), there were a few times when the digital nature of the image was apparent, particularly when clear straight lines were running across the screen.

Bottom line: the IMAX version of DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is bigger – which may increase the impact of the special effects scenes, such as the swarm that devours trucks and buildings like a Biblical plague – but it is not necessarily better. Don’t avoid it because of these minor quibbles, but don’t go out of your way – and pay more – if  you would rather just watch the film at your local movie house.

  • The notable exception to this syndrome is THE DARK KNIGHT, which was filmed partially in the IMAX format.)