As the world ushers in a new year, the film industry faces a changing landscape. Cinema has long been far from the only option for movie fans. Since the days of Betamax, home entertainment has been a strong competitor to cinema. However, with DVD piracy and illegal downloading of movies now widespread, high-definition and 3D film are often seen as the industry's best hope of keeping multiplexes full, and Imax is leading the charge. With the world premiere of Journey to Mecca, shot with Imax cameras, being shown in Abu Dhabi tonight, there's no better time to look at the company that could be at the forefront of the future of film.
The Canadian firm is perhaps best associated with its two most popular formats - Imax 3D and Digital Remastering (DMR), often referred to as The Imax Experience. Imax 3D involves images filmed with two cameras (one for each eye), brought together via the viewer's clear polarised glasses, giving the illusion of a 3D image. The advantage of this over the traditional red-green form of 3D is that it offers a more "real" image and is more comfortable to watch, given the broader range of colours and detail. DMR refers to a remastering process used for 2D movies. It improves the image quality, detail and sharpness due to a larger film frame (70mm).
While the majority of IMAX cinemas are in either the United States or Canada, more are launching across the world. There are currently 295 Imax theatres in more than 40 countries, including in Dubai at the Ibn Battuta Mall. Many Imax cinemas have become landmarks, including the BFI Imax in London (Britain's largest cinema screen), and the Prasads Imax in South India, the largest 3D Imax theatre in the world. Many cinema chains are now incorporating Imax technology, allowing them to offer improved quality alongside standard-projection films.
A past criticism of Imax has been that the only films made in Imax 3D were produced by the company itself, which meant that studio pictures were not available in the format. This has changed in the past decade, however, with Warner Bros in particular taking advantage of it. One of the first studio films to be released entirely in Imax 3D was 2004's The Polar Express, which came out in tandem with the 2D theatrical print. The first live-action film to use Imax 3D was 2006's Superman Returns, which featured 20 minutes of 3D footage, during which audiences were prompted to put on their special glasses by the film's director, Bryan Singer. Most recently, the climax to 2007's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix took advantage of the format.
Of more frequent use to studios has been DMR, in which many new releases are now shown. First used for 1995's Apollo 13, it was also deployed in last year's The Dark Knight, which filmed several scenes with Imax digital cameras, and the recent science-fiction blockbuster The Day the Earth Stood Still. Spider-Man 3 and The Rolling Stones' Shine a Light have also enjoyed success with DMR. So what does the future hold for Imax? This summer, it will take sci-fi to a new frontier when JJ Abrams' Star Trek gets The Imax Experience as well as a conventional release. 3D and DMR versions of music concerts and sports events are also being considered by the company, with the size of most Imax venues meaning it can branch out to other areas of entertainment. But with more 3D-specific studio films being made, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, Shrek Goes Fourth 3D and James Cameron's forthcoming Avatar, it won't be long until Imax is bringing Hollywood closer to you than ever before.