IMAX hoping to weave its magic after a second coming to Dublin

 

Middle Earth fans rejoice. Promising “lifelike, crystal-clear” images, Canadian cinema company IMAX has re-opened on Parnell Street in time to bring every tuft, every strand, every wisp of Gandalf’s beard to Dublin audiences.

After an eight-week refurbishment, the number 17 screen on the top floor of Cineworld on Parnell Street has been converted into an IMAX screen.

The process was hastened by a fortnight so that it was ready for last Sunday’s Irish premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which goes on general release this Thursday.

The Dublin Cineworld screen is IMAX’s 700th cinema worldwide and the seventh of eight screens it is opening in the UK and Ireland under revenue-sharing deals with cinema chain Cineworld.

IMAX is also in talks to re-open its screen in Belfast’s Odyssey Pavilion, according to the company’s chief executive for Europe, Middle East and Africa region Andrew Cripps.

“You need a box office of around $20 million in a market to support an IMAX,” he said. “You could have two or maybe three in Dublin.”

Although tickets for IMAX screenings cost more – non-discounted adult prices range from €8.70 for an off-peak 2D film to €16.30 for a 3D film at peak times – IMAX screens boost revenues for cinemas primarily by increasing attendance, Mr Cripps said.

“We’re not just taking the same people into the cinema and charging them a higher price – we’re bringing a new audience in.”

Blockbusters scheduled to be shown in the IMAX screen in 2013 include Les Miserables, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Man of Steel and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Exhibitors are increasingly looking to bells-and-whistles such as those provided by IMAX to help market movies in an era of home entertainment.

“With plasma screens at home, the economy in recession, it takes a lot to persuade people to come to a cinema and pay for parking and arrange a babysitter,” said Mr Cripps.

IMAX-endowed cinemas that offer advance bookings tend to sell out the IMAX screenings first, he said.

The 18.6m wide and 10m tall screen in Dublin, which uses IMAX’s digital remastering process to enhance the image and sound of the movie, is “a key differentiator” for Cineworld, according to its vice-president of business affairs Crispin Lilly.

Converting a cinema screen to an IMAX, which uses proprietary projection systems that brighten the on-screen image, costs €155,000 to €195,000.

“It’s much easier when you’re building a brand new theatre and you don’t have to retro-fit the cinema,” said Mr Cripps.

Not all cinemas are readily adaptable to the format because IMAX screens are taller than standard screens, using an aspect ratio of 1.9:1, rather than the traditional letterbox ratios of 2.2:1 or 2.4:1.

This is a second coming for IMAX in Dublin.

The original IMAX on Parnell Street, which showed 45-minute documentaries, closed in 2000 after just two years in operation. The operator of the adjacent multiplex UGC Cinemas expanded into the site, which was later taken over by Cineworld.

Over the past 12 years Hollywood’s embrace of new digital technologies including IMAX cameras – the highest resolution cameras in the world – has put the company on an upward trajectory.

Last year, it bought a number of patents off Kodak and is now developing a prototype laser projector that it hopes to bring to screens in 2014.

“It’s the biggest RD investment we’ve ever had,” said Mr Cripps.

The better contrast levels offered by laser projection addresses one criticism of 3D – that it is too dark.

“For The Dark Knight and a director like Christopher Nolan where everything is dark, distinguishing between the blacks and greys and the shadows is really very important.”