Local fans of IMAX movie technology, with its stadium seating, big sound, and uber-huge screens, were saddened when the only local IMAX theater, located at Broadway at the Beach, Myrtle Beach, shut down for good in November. But some eight months later, when Carmike Cinemas announced it would reopen in the former IMAX theater, under its growing brand name “BIGD,” we held out hope, and were rewarded for our patience. The biggest screen/movie auditorium in South Carolina is back in business.
The Aug. 3 grand opening of BIGD with a midnight showing of the sci-fi flick “Total Recall,” a total remake starring Colin Farrell, was our chance to revisit the renovated theater, and finally get a taste of what major metropolitan areas have enjoyed for decades – first run Hollywood flicks on the big, big, big screen on the night they open for wide release. Neither the BIGD, nor “Total Recall” disappointed the capacity crowd that showed up for the festivities. Giveaways, searchlights, even Legends in Concert celebrity tribute artists attended.
But what happened to IMAX?
While we IMAX fans were disappointed when the theater closed last November, truthfully we had been disappointed long before then. Our local IMAX rarely (if ever) screened major first-run Hollywood movies. Oh sure, there were plenty of dino-docs, stunning space, aquatic, and pro-environmental features that were all quite fantastic – the theater even underwent a 3-D makeover in 2007. But after years (in some cases) rehashing those same worn-out features, mixed in with the occasional 3-D holiday features; “Polar Express,” Disney’s “A Christmas Carol,” etc., we lamented the fact that “Harry Potter” “Lord of the Rings” and “Batman” features were opening in IMAX theaters around the world, while ours went without – until much later in their runs, if it all. Turns out it wasn’t their fault. According to an inside source, IMAX was legally forbidden to screen first-run features because of its proximity to Carmike Broadway Cinema 16 (now called Cinema 17), who held those first-on-the-block screening rights. This zoning restriction proved to be the demise of IMAX, Broadway at the Beach.
While IMAX as a corporation downsizes its screens, and transitions from its former superior quality film projectors to, many say, an inferior lower resolution digital format, the opportunistic Carmike is flexing its muscle. With its re-imagining of the former IMAX space, big screen movie lovers finally have our wish, though at the expense of the company that first brought the large screen format in 1970 and later picture-popping 3-D to the market.
So What’s the Big Deal at the BIGD?
Still a little rough around the edges, Carmike sunk some big money (the company declined to comment on the amount) into its BIGD concept. A new screen, 7.1 digital sound system and all new wider, cushy leather seats are a big plus. A few final cosmetic touches were still in the upgrade stage on opening night, but overall the new theater lived up to its hype, with a few caveats. While the screen is big, it’s shorter than the old, nearly square IMAX screen. The BIGD’s letterbox format goes edge-to-edge (82-feet), as it claimed in its press release, but not “floor-to-ceiling” as it also claimed. While the old IMAX screen was truly floor-to-ceiling (around 50-feet tall), the BIGD screen is 35-feet tall, significantly shorter, but still the largest screen in the area.
While “Total Recall” was neither shot nor released in 3-D, it looked sharp, and sounded great, but the jury is still out on whether the new BIGD 3-D features will pop in the same way the old IMAX 3-D features did. To any movie buffs paying attention, there is no comparison between the old IMAX 3-D and standard 3-D now widely available at non-IMAX theaters. The IMAX 3-D was of the type that had adults reaching into thin air attempting to touch the images that seemed to jump off the screen and hover inches from their faces. I’ve yet to experience that same engaging, visceral depth-of-field at any major run 3-D feature at a standard theater screening. While standard 2-D features are passing muster with moviegoers at the new BIGD (“Bourne Legacy” is now showing), perhaps Carmike’s BIGD 3-D will not disappoint 3-D lovers as well. The first 3-D feature, “Finding Nemo 3-D” will screen in September.
You’ll pay an extra couple of dollars for a BIGD seat (adult tickets are $10.50), and still more for 3-D features, though all soft drinks are refillable at the do-it-yourself soda fountains in the concession area, and the comfort and scope of the upgrades should resonate with most movie fans.
This thirteenth BIGD theater in the Carmike chain still has challenges ahead; its one screen limits the number and variety of features available during prime time, however it can share staff and management with Carmike Broadway 17, a mere 100 yards down the sidewalk.
As was the case with vinyl vs. cassette, BETA vs. VHS, analog vs. MP3, and IMAX 65 mm film Vs. BIGD digital, in this reviewer’s opinion, the superior format has lost out to the slightly inferior. Digital is here to stay, however, and has its economic advantages as well as some quality advantages – no degradation after the first showing; a digital presentation looks the same the first time as does its hundredth. Film deteriorates after its first screening and develops scratches and spots (called “artifacts”); digital does not.
I’ll never forget my first IMAX experience; “Hail Columbia” a Space Shuttle documentary shown on a giant IMAX screen. Nothing has come close since then, and probably nothing will again, though to be sure I’ll be at every movie BIGD screens, with a bag of popcorn and my complete surrender and willingness to be fully immersed in the movie-going experience.