The IMAX Theater at Raleigh's Exploris has long dazzled its visitors with the usual large-screen fare of canyons, mountains and oceans, and the people and animals who live there. And starting this Friday they'll be presenting a movie with awe-inspiring shots of rockets launching and hurtling through outer space. This time, however, the gee-whiz flick is an actual feature film: Ron Howard's Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris and Kevin Bacon.
Making the conversion is a difficult task, for the IMAX format is a very different animal. IMAX films are shot on huge 15/70 stock, ten times larger than the 35mm standard for normal movies. Simply magnifying the 35mm film isn't a satisfactory approach, because the fine resolution vanishes. Furthermore, such magnification is not always flattering to the actors who may have skin blemishes and other distracting physical flaws that will suddenly be all too visible.
Recently, however IMAX has developed a digital re-mastering process that, for the relatively economical price of several million dollars, can magnify 35mm films and preserve the image quality. However, film purists will notice another difficulty with the translation to IMAX that the corporation has not solved: The aspect ratio, or frame dimensions, of the IMAX image is square--more so than a conventional television set. Thus far, IMAX has handled the problem the old-fashioned way by simply lopping off the sides.
Still, Apollo 13 is well-suited to the IMAX format. It's a well-scrubbed, uplifting family experience, and the full-bodied roar of the Saturn rockets coming from the speakers and the images from outer space go a long way toward placing us in the thick of the action.
Assuming that audiences continue to turn out for these mega-movies, expect this trend to accelerate. On June 6, for example, The Matrix Reloaded will premiere in the IMAX format at select few theaters, of which Exploris is not currently one. In the meantime, Triangle Matrix fans will have to drive three and a half hours to the Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton, Va.