The seats shake, rock and twist in time with the action in one of the auditoriums at the UltraLuxe theaters next to Disneyland. Just add $8 to the regular movie ticket price.
The AMC 30 in the Block at Orange is home to one of only 70 screens worldwide equipped with the latest version of Dolby surround sound. The new technology, called Atmos, adds a third dimension to immersive audio and can accommodate up to 64 speakers in a venue.
Throughout Orange County, theater owners are rolling out extra-large screens to compete with IMAX, the grand-daddy of big movie experiences, touting better sound and superior pictures in an effort to squeeze a few more dollars out of ticket prices.
"Once it was established that the movie-going public would pay more for something they perceived as better, the race was on for experiences that moviegoers would pay more for," said Joe DeMeo, president of the International Cinema Technology Association and a Huntington Beach resident. "People will travel out of their normal range to go to a theater they know will accommodate them for whatever reason."
One of those destination theaters is Edwards Irvine Spectrum. The IMAX screen there stretches along a curved wall from side to side and top to bottom in a humungous auditorium. This screen is 90.5 feet wide and 65.9 feet tall, once a showpiece for educational films shot in gigantic 70 mm IMAX film.
Now all the theater chains offer an IMAX-like giant screen experience with booming surround sound. Cinemark calls it XD, Regal named it RPX and AMC labels it ETX. But they all mean pretty much the same thing -- big screen and big sound.
"A large format screen that has a bright picture, great sound and really impresses the viewer with its size -- that's what the large formats are going for," said Damon Rubio, executive VP of operations for UltraStar, which owns the UltraLuxe theater in Anaheim. "And doing that doesn't really take the IMAX brand."
UltraStar, based in the San Diego area, took over the failing theater next to Disneyland in 2010. The new owners spent about $130,000 to outfit one auditorium with 26 immersive shaking seats that sway and shake in time with the action. The movements are specially coded by an artist and the intensity of the experience can be adjusted by the moviegoer with the press of a button -- but only one movie is available with the experience at a time (currently it's the latest "Die Hard" sequel).
UltraStar also replaced all the film projectors with digital ones at a cost of about $80,000 per screen for a total investment of about $1.1 million. During the renovation the company tore out the IMAX system installed by the previous owner and replaced it with its own "UltraMax" brand.
"The reality is in this day and age there's a lot of variation between cinemas," said Rubio.
IMAX offers a particularly impressive visual experience on certain movies. A handful of Hollywood movies, for example, are being filmed in a special IMAX 70 mm film format. Last year, "Dark Knight Rises" included 70 minutes of the enhanced footage, while the upcoming "Star Trek Into Darkness" has 30 minutes.
IMAX executives say they provide much more than just a big screen experience. A number of things can go wrong with the presentation of a movie, and one of the biggest issues has to do with brightness. Whether it's a painful cost cutting choice to not replace an expensive dimming bulb or simply poor training -- a dark picture can destroy a night out, especially in a 3D movie where the picture is already darkened by glasses.
That's part of the reason IMAX doesn't let anyone customize its system. Operations are managed, and monitored remotely, by IMAX.
"We don't let them fiddle with the knobs," said Brian Bonnick, Chief Technology Officer at IMAX.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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