(Charles Gichane) – There’s a new show in town that promises a true “shock and awe treatment” experience to your senses.
Kenya’s first digital IMAX theatre system opened at the 20th Century Plaza in Nairobi on March 30 with the flair and glamour fitted for a Hollywood red carpet event.
The launch of Africa’s second IMAX theatre at the 20th Century Auditorium offered a glimpse of what viewers can expect by shelling out Sh1000 to watch the latest blockbusters and educational movies being produced.
Those who turned up for the launch were treated to snacks and drinks, complimented by traditional Kenyan music, which created a lively yet relaxed atmosphere; an ironic setting serving as a prelude to the mind blowing experience we were about to get treated to.
What’s the difference between watching a movie at an IMAX theatre and a regular movie theatre other than the 30 percent price difference?
Simply put, it’s the same magnitude as the difference between watching a VHS on a 13 inch cathode ray tube (CRT) television on low volume and watching BluRay on a 60 inch plasma television with 7.1 surround sound.
What makes IMAX stand out from the rest of the field is the quality of their productions, which are shown on curved screens that are typically 16 meters high by 22 meters wide (approximately 52 by 72 feet), about six times the size of a traditional movie screen.
The screen at the 20th Century Auditorium is 17 by 9 metres (slightly over 55 feet wide) and its massive size is the first thing you notice when you first enter the auditorium.
Though impressive, the biggest IMAX screen in North America is in Toronto (4th largest in the world), Canada and it is 60 feet high and 85 feet wide, while the largest one in the world is in Australia and is 95 feet high and 117 feet wide.
Imagine standing next to an eight-story apartment building that is wider than it is tall. Yeah, it’s HUGE.
The IMAX theatre features a hemispherical screen that can be up to 30 metres in diameter that wraps the front of the theatre, and this allows for an incredible feeling of immersion (there is nothing outside the film to distract your attention), and it also enhances the feeling of motion.
In fact, the feeling of motion is so strong that it often feels like you’re on a roller coaster ride and it’s common to hear people who are experiencing IMAX for the first time complaining that it makes them ill.
Once the awe of the screen’s size subsides, the next thing you will notice about the IMAX experience is the sound quality, which feels like what’s taking place in the movie is happening inside your mind at the highest possible volume.
IMAX films move the soundtrack from the video track inside the film onto its own 35 millimeter strip or hard disk drive, which is then carefully synced with the video either by computer or within the projector to ensure better picture and explosive sound.
IMAX theatres utilize six channel surround sound, with between 40 and 50 speakers and at least 12,000 watts of ear-pounding sound.
The speakers are placed in all directions, including behind the screens to support a fuller three-dimensional sound effect.
Most standard AMC theatres are 8000 watts, while IMAX theatres have 12,000 to 15,000 watts and the one in Toronto has a 25,000 watt sound system.
It’s important to consider that outdoor concerts often use 15,000 watt amps, so you can only imagine what it feels like since IMAX showings are enclosed and sometimes in dome like structures for even more acoustics.
For the launch of IMAX in Nairobi, they opted to show previews of various types of films to allow viewers to see how different types of features (action, animated, documentary) will look on the platform.
The audience was given specially made IMAX 3D glasses (which we were asked to return) upon entering the theatre and many of us put them on as soon as the previews started playing.
Gasps of surprise and elation accompanied each thrilling action sequence, followed by applause and cheers as we were shown clips from 2D movies that had been adapted to the IMAX screen.
After the first several previews, the MC of the event announced that we should now put on our 3D glasses, which elicited laughter and curiosity from audience members who must have been wondering how much more realistic the images on the screen could possibly get.
To say IMAX 3D movies are different from regular IMAX movies would be an understatement.
As soon as the first 3D scene appeared, objects literally seemed to pop out of the screen appearing as if you can touch them, an effect that will probably appeal most to children.
In another scene involving Spiderman from the Amazing Spiderman 3D to be released in July, the masked superhero dove off a skyscraper and seemingly took the whole audience with him as several viewers screamed unintentionally, while others gripped their chairs in anxious anticipation of a crash.
There is a sense of awe to be had when taking part in the IMAX experience, from the breathtaking colossal screen to the mind blowing sound.
I can’t say enough good things about the sound and the clarity of films on the IMAX platform, but at too close a distance, I feel like one needs to work too hard to comprehend what’s on the screen.
Your eyes need to dart from one side to the other and you occasionally need to crane your neck just to take in the whole image.
In my opinion, there are only a few rows of seats that really offer a truly pleasurable viewing experience so it’s important to arrive to the theatre early in order to reserve the seats near the back and center of the auditorium.
With that being said, when you have the exact right spot in the theater and the print of the movie is good and the state-of-the-art sound system is firing on all cylinders, it can be an absolutely magical experience that will leave you wondering how you will be able to watch a movie at a regular theatre ever again.