NOTE: This is entirely based on my experiences with these theater formats and the theaters that I go to. Opinions on this will vary due to ticket prices, different theaters, unavailability in your location, and so forth, but this will be addressed.
In 2008, IMAX Digital was introduced to movie theater chains, and people responded in confusion and uproar. Soon after its arrival, comedian Aziz Ansari wrote a rant on how he was disappointed to see that at his showing of Star Trek, his local IMAX theater was much smaller than he expected, yet he still was paying the price of a regular IMAX ticket. He realized that this was a fake IMAX, a.k.a. “Lie-MAX,” and that the IMAX corporation needed to address this somehow, such as promoting it as a smaller type of screen. We’ve come to call this new format IMAX Digital. This lead to many other movie theater chains to create their own big digital format theaters without actually calling it IMAX. A significantly popular one is called Cinemark XD. Cinemark introduced their big format theater in late 2009, in competition with IMAX Digital. IMAX reacted by filing a lawsuit against Cinemark, but Cinemark did it right back. Both were in negotiations to bring IMAX Digital to their theaters, but instead, Cinemark did it themselves under their own name. Why this, though? Aren’t they two completely different formats? Is there even a better one over the other? Well, I finally got the chance to try out the XD theater at a 3D screening of Prometheus, and now I can finally make a detailed analysis.
I’ve been to the IMAX Digital theater at my local AMC many times, and I’m not sure why I’ve continued to revisit it. I do have an actual IMAX theater nearby, but as of recently, it only shows nature and educational films now, with a big studio release every once in a while (The Dark Knight Rises will be playing there this summer). So, whenever I want to get the most bang out of my buck, I just go to the IMAX Digital nearby, but am I really getting my money’s worth? The first movie I saw in the format was also Star Trek, and according to my ticket, which I still have, my 6:30pm show was $11.50. Not bad for a 2D movie with a slightly bigger screen and better sound quality. Fast forward three years, an evening show of Prometheus in 3D is a whopping $17. Sure, all ticket prices have increased, including the real IMAX tickets themselves, but $17 for a digital screen is ridiculous. I saw The Avengers at that same theater, and my mind is boggled with why I did that. A regular 3D showing that’s $2 cheaper doesn’t help much, either. Okay, so ticket prices are another story, but they do play an important part in this. Anyways, the IMAX Digital theater nearby my house is significantly small, and I hear IMAX Digital theaters in other AMC theaters in my area are bigger, but they’re still not real IMAXs, and they might cost even more, too. The look of the theater itself doesn’t try to add onto the experience, either. It really just looks like every other ordinary theater, but with a bigger screen. The seats aren’t formatted for you to feel like the top of the screen is way above your vision. The only way to gimmick that feeling is sitting in the front of the theater, and as always, sitting in the front is no fun.
Now, let me say straight off the bat that Cinemark XD is indeed the exact same screen size as IMAX Digital. What you are watching on is no different from what you can get from the tiny fake IMAX. Though here’s the catch. At the Cinemark theater I go to, 3D evening tickets are $14.50, and XD ones are $15.25 on opening week, and $15 any other time. So there’s less than a $1 difference between 3D and XD 3D, and a $2 difference between IMAX Digital and XD. Though this is just my theater. What if your local theaters have different ticket prices than mine? Here’s another plus, then. The Cinemark XD is built like a brand new theater, unlike IMAX Digital. The walls and carpets are colored differently compared to the other theaters, the space feels bigger and more air conditioned, and rocking leather seats are provided. The screen may not be state-of-the-art, but the theater itself is. Now again, this is my theater, so what if your local theater kept its XD theater the same as the rest? Here’s one more plus. IMAX Digital is only allowed to play what studios release in the IMAX format. Cinemark XD can show whatever they want. They’ll show IMAX releases such as The Avengers and Prometheus, but they can put regular-sized movies and digitally stretch them, like Snow White and the Huntsman or Madagascar 3. I’ve seen my local Cinemark theaters make some cool and strange choices for the XD theater, too, such as Kick-Ass, The Hangover Part II, and even The Social Network. One of the downsides to this is that if you want to see normal 2D movies in the XD theater, it’s a $3.25 surcharge from the original price, so you’re better off just seeing it on the regular, smaller screen. Another downside is that if you watch an IMAX-shot movie in the XD theater, it won’t fill up the screen. Prometheus wasn’t shot in IMAX, but when I saw the trailer before The Avengers in IMAX, the footage had no letterbox bars. At the XD theater I saw the movie in, it was presented in widescreen.
Now, before you start running to your nearest Cinemark XD theater, it’s still a rip-off. Both XD and IMAX Digital are both rip-offs. Though if you want to see a movie in IMAX 3D, but the IMAX Digital is the only one available in your area, that is when you resort to Cinemark XD. It’s cheaper than an IMAX Digital ticket, and a couple of quarters more expensive than a regular 3D ticket. Watching 2D movies in these slightly big and digital formats are not worth it, and if a movie is shot in IMAX, make the trip to the closest, realest IMAX possible (if the movie is good, of course). With The Dark Knight Rises coming out this summer, I recommend seeking out a real IMAX in your location. If there is none, but you REALLY want to see the movie in a bigger screen, the IMAX Digital is a last resort. The IMAX shots will fill up the screen, but it’s a screen not nearly as big as the real one, and you’re spending the exact same price.
Photos of Cinemark XD theaters: