By NIKO DUGAN
To say I was excited for the debut of the Savoy 16's Imax theater would be a big understatement.
It was fitting, therefore, that officials at Goodrich Quality Theatres chose to open their new theater with a movie I was equally excited for: "Iron Man 3." It's hard to tell which one did a better job of living up to its hype, but I'll give the theater a slight edge.
In an April 26 post on its Facebook page, the theater announced tickets were available, so I headed over to http://www.savoy16.com, where I simply had to find the right showtime — 12:01 a.m. Friday — and click on it to be taken to the purchasing screen. The movie would be shown in Imax 3-D, so tickets were $16 each, plus a $1 "reservation fee."
I'm not a big fan of 3-D — in fact, I'll happily see a 2-D version of a movie if given the choice — but this was the only version being shown on the Imax screen, so 3-D it was. After completing my purchase online, I later picked up the tickets without a hassle at a kiosk in the theater's new lobby.
As co-worker Joel Leizer and I would be at work until just before showtime, my girlfriend and a friend were kind enough to go early and save our seats. When we entered the renovated lobby about 11:30 p.m. Thursday, it became clear why the theater had opened up that space: There was a pretty significant line. However, this wasn't for the Imax showing, which we had been informed was already seating, so we headed past the first ticket stand to the south end of the complex.
We arrived to find a separate waiting area for the Imax screen, which had no line, as employees were efficiently whisking people inside. One tore my ticket as another handed me my 3-D glasses — basically, oversized sunglasses with a thin film where the lens would be. They were light and fit snugly without being too tight near the ears. We then disappeared under the marquee into a dimly lit hallway on the side of the theater.
This being the debut of one of the year's first blockbusters, the theater was packed — but I hardly noticed. Once the tunnel opened, we were greeted with the impressive sight of the screen. I'm not sure of the exact specifications, but a little research shows the standard size is 72 feet wide by 53 feet high, and this seemed to fit that bill. Being so large, it was slightly curved so that images on the peripherals wouldn't be distorted. The screen, which looked like it was made of a sort of shimmering fabric, took up the entirety of the front wall of the theater, but what was more striking was turning around to look at the seats.
Since this theater was purpose-built to be an Imax screen, the seats are on a significant incline — enough so that your feet would be about level with the shoulder blades of the person in the row ahead of you. The seats are new and still smell of new leather and recline slightly to be able to take in the whole screen. Armrests with cup-holders move up or down freely. All of this serves to eliminate any sort of interference — you might not even notice if 6-foot-11 Illini basketball center Nnanna Egwu sat down in front of you.
Our seats were near the aisle a few rows up from where the tunnels spit us out. There were about eight to 10 rows in front of the tunnels, which seemed to have just as good a view as those above them, along with several handicapped areas. After we got comfortable, theater staff made a few announcements and went over a few rules. One of them was that cellphones were to be turned off, and this was a zero-tolerance policy: Any usher who saw light from a small screen would ask its owner to leave. This was greeted with hearty applause from those in the sold-out theater. We were also told that the screen would inform us when to put on our 3-D glasses, as not all the previews were in 3-D.
After this, the manager led an impromptu countdown from 10, and at "one," the lights went down and a special "optimizing Imax experience" video was played. The image took up all but a few square inches of the massive screen, and the sound system was impressive — so much so that in the middle of a movie, you'd probably have to raise your voice for your neighbor to hear you. The bass, especially, takes some getting used to, but the entire effect is worth it.
What followed was a feast for the eyes and ears. It took about 5 to 10 minutes for me to adjust to the large picture and sound, but it soon became immersive. On future showings, I'll probably sit a few rows up and more toward the center, but this was a great start. The 3-D was impressive, and not overly distracting. All in all, an engaging experience that had me saying "worth it" as we walked out.
Oh, and the movie wasn't half-bad, either.
"Iron Man 3" is showing in Imax 3-D at noon, 3, 6 and 9 p.m. each day. Next up on the Imax screen is "Star Trek Into Darkness" on May 17, also in 3-D.
Niko Dugan, a longtime cinephile, is a copy editor at The News-Gazette.