Take a gander at the picture to the left. The future of movie going in Champaign-Urbana is in the offing and it will occupy that space before you know it.
Ground is to be broken on this spot just south of the Savoy 16 this week, beginning the first phase of construction on the area’s first IMAX theater. If you think this is just another movie screen, well then you’ve never experienced a film in this immersive widescreen format. Diehard fans of these venues don’t hesitate to travel to Chicago or Indianapolis to see the latest Hollywood blockbusters in IMAX and once you’ve seen a film in such a theater, you understand why.
Though the format has been around since 1970, the number of these venues being built has expanded at a phenomenal rate over the past five years. Initially these screens were housed at museums and planetariums where they were used to show nature documentaries that were 40 minutes or less. The reason for the short running time was that the sheer weight of the film made it difficult for the projector’s turntable to turn if there was more than 40 minutes of film on it, as the width of the film is three times larger than standard 35 mm. However, with the coming of digital imaging, film is no longer used so the limitation on how long the movies being shown in this format can be has vanished, thus making it possible to show feature films on the massive IMAX screens, which are approximately 53 feet high and 73 feet wide. (Compare this to a standard screen, which is 30 x 70.) That means, you’re watching Batman swoop through Gotham City or seeing James Bond in action on a screen that’s over five stories tall.
Film studios know a potential cash cow when they see it and have wasted no time in making sure that their biggest movies are released in this format. This has paid off handsomely for them. In 2010, the box office gross for films shown in IMAX was $271 million. In 2011, it was $546 million, more than double from the previous year.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this is one of the most lucrative strategies a film studio can employ to recoup their investments and as a result, the number of IMAX screens being built has increased exponentially. As of September of this year, 697 such facilities have been in operation with over 50 more slated to be built in the coming year. The theater at the Savoy 16 is part of that expansion and by May of 2013, our area will be part of this film going revolution, one that sweeps the viewer away like no other and is actually worth the extra ticket fee, unlike the hit-and-miss 3D features which continues to wane in popularity as the IMAX format soars.