Why The Dark Knight Rises isn’t in 3D but is in IMAX instead and Why That’s GOOD!

Exactly what is Imax and why do I argue you should watch “The Dark Knight Rises” in Imax?

I remember when I was buying a ticket to Mission Impossible 4 Ghost Protocol, the guy behind me asked if the movie was in 3D. The saleslady was forced to say no. I had to butt in. “The movie isn’t in 3D but it’s in Imax, which is a film size ten times bigger than a normal movie. When you watch it, it will feel like they knocked out a wall in the theater, it will feel like you’re really there! For normal movies, you don’t need this, but for a movie like this Mission Impossible, like in the Burj Khalifa scenes, when the camera looks down, you are looking from the tallest building in the world. Imax is worth it, in this case. 3D will just diminish the experience.” I think he bought the ticket.

First, let’s talk about resolutions. For convenience, we’ll use pixels to compare resolutions. Pixels are the little dots that make up the pictures in a video screen. Depending on the technology, a pixel can be a colored dot in the old Cathode-ray tube television, a Liquid Crystal Display dot on an LCD screen or a Light-emitting diode dot on the new LED televisions.

So here’s a graphic showing the various kinds of video display resolutions, ranging from the VCD format to Blu-ray to 1080p High Definition TV’s and the 4k format used by high-end video cameras.

At the lowest corner, you can see the screen size of the VCD format. It’s laughably smaller than the DVD or the Blu-ray (the 1080p standard). Blu-rays, just estimating from the size of this graphic, have nine times the pixels of a DVD.

What does that mean for you? If you bought a nice new 100 cm LED television and you project a VCD disc, it would look incredibly ugly, a DVD would look kind of blurry, and a 1080p Blu-ray would look quite good.

The big red box is the 4k resolution, used by professional video cameras like the Red One or for rendering computer-generated visual effects for companies like Industrial Light & Magic. Let’s not fool around with that.

Now, a normal, everyday (actually, with the bankruptcy of Kodak and Arriflex and Panaflex’s halt on the production of film cameras, not so everyday anymore and growing rarer daily) film is 35 mm, so called because its width is 35 mm. Its pixel count is, well, none because it’s an analog medium, not digital. The film picture’s dots are in the atomic scale, when the silver molecules react with light to capture the image on the film stock. We can only estimate, oh say, 20 million pixels. A normal eye can probably detect 9 million pixels. The extra pixels are the subtle little colors and shades that makes a film picture look so realistic.

So a DVD image intended for the old television standard has a display resolution of 640×480 pixels, or a laughably small 300,000 pixels per image. A Blu-ray, with a resolution of 1920×1080 has a resolution of 2 million pixels. The new Apple Macbook Pro’s retina screen has  a resolution of 5.2 million pixels! Higher than an HD television crammed in a 38 cm screen!

But that’s still a far cry from a single frame of film, and I’m talking about the normal 35 mm film, the same film they’ve been using since Charlie Chaplin’s time, before the dawn of television and video. Film at its best has a resolution four times of Blu-ray. Even the professional video format, at 4k resolution, has a total only of 7 million pixels.

Compare the film format to Imax, however, and you’r talking about the Eiffel Tower versus Mount Everest. Imax film is two times wider than 35 mm. Yes, they use 70 mm film. But to get an even bigger film frame, they flipped the film 90 degrees. While normal movies project the film up to down, Imax projects it sideways!  Here’s a comparison of frame sizes.

Look at the sprocket holes in the 35 mm film. It’s at the left and right. When the film travels, it goes from up, down. The sprockets in the huge Imax film is on top and below, so the film runs sideways. The film frame isn’t just twice bigger, it’s now ten times bigger.

If a perfectly shot 35 mm film frame has an estimated 20 million pixels, an Imax screen has 200 million pixels per frame. That’s an image that is more realistic. You’re really there, you see all the details.

That means an Imax film’s screen can be 30 meters (almost 100 ft) tall.

So when there are epic scenes in The Dark Knight Rises (trust me, there are many) you will see all the crowds, all the explosions, all the details of the entire cityscape as director Christopher Nolan meant it to be seen. And for this Batman movie, he shot fifty minutes of the two hour and forty minutes running time in Imax. So if you want to get what you paid for and what he worked hard to show you for, you should watch it in Imax.

But wait! That isn’t all! Many Imax theaters nowadays, to spare themselves the expense, have been showing not FILM Imax but Digital Video Imax. The screens, while bigger than a normal screen, look puny compared to true Imax film. Here’s a comparison:

Imax experience theaters usually have 18 meter screens while real Imax theaters have 30 meter screens. If the screen is small, likely you watched at an Imax experience theater. The trouble is, they charge the same amount for totally different things! And they give no indications that there’s a difference!

Now, why isn’t it in 3D? Actually, real 3D are holograms, the kind portrayed in movies like Total Recall (I assume even the new Total Recall has 3D holography). When a 3D image is projected, you should be able to walk around it and see all sides. The 3D they have nowadays in movies is accurately called Stereoscopy.

While Imax has a big film image allowing you to view vistas with scope and grandeur, 3D tends to make things more intimate, like in horror films where the killer’s knife or ax swings towards the audience. 3D tends to make images so close you can reach out and touch it. Christopher Nolan, despite all the press about it, does not hate 3D. In fact, he was thinking of making Inception in 3D except they didn’t have time to do a quality 3D conversion. To quote him about 3D for The Dark Knight Rises:

” I find stereoscopic imaging too small scale and intimate in its effect…The thing with stereoscopic imaging is it gives each audience member an individual perspective. It’s well suited to video games and other immersive technologies, but if you’re looking for an audience experience, stereoscopic is hard to embrace. I prefer the big canvas, looking up at an enormous screen and at an image that feels larger than life. When you treat that stereoscopically, and we’ve tried a lot of tests, you shrink the size so the image becomes a much smaller window in front of you.”

“Whereas the operatic quality of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises felt very well suited to IMAX’s larger canvas. So it’s different depending on what film you want to do. But, in each case, as a filmmaker who’s been given sizable budgets with which to work, I feel a responsibility to the audience to be shooting with the absolute highest quality technology that I can and make the film in a way that I want.” from Collider.com

So if you want to watch “The Dark Knight Rises”and see the true epic grandeur of the movie treat yourself to Imax, but make sure it’s TRUE Imax, and in the Philippines, that’s SM Mall of Asia’s Imax!