Screen-X can go away

My wife and I saw Spider-Man: Far From Home yesterday. It was good (although for this movie-goer’s money, not as good as Spider-Man: Homecoming), but the problem I had with it wasn’t so much the movie as the theatre itself.

Jackie can’t watch 3D movies. They play with her head too much. So I’ve long known that if we’re going to watch a movie in a theatre, it can’t be in 3D (as much as any forced, computer-generated “3D” these days is actually really 3D or worth anyone’s time, but that’s for another post). But when I was booking our tickets for this movie, all I saw on the screen time was a little Screen-X logo, so all seemed well.

As we live in a big city, every couple of years, a new kind of movie-going experience is offered by the big theatre chain, Cineplex. Presumably in order to entice people out of their living rooms–with their AppleTV, Netflix, HBO, Amazon Prime, and myriad other streaming options that give people more things to watch in the comfort of their own homes than ever before–theatres are upping their game to lure people to keep coming out to catch movies on a big screen. Everything from more comfortable seating, to seats that shake and shimmy with the action (with improved sound quality to boost), to reserved seats, to reserved luxury seats with at-seat wait staff to bring you food and (even alcoholic) drinks… the list goes on.

Because we don’t go to movies that often, I admit I’m not exactly up-to-date on what the newest theatre bells-and-whistles offerings are. As such, I went ahead and bought our tickets for the Screen-X screening, knowing with total (ok, probably 98%) confidence that at least it wasn’t going to be in 3D. I assumed it was some bigger screen, or maybe a screen that was a bit curved, or whatever. It was clearly something different, because it was an extra dollar or two per ticket. But hey, we don’t see movies enough, the babysitter’s booked, screw the extra cost what whatever this new thing is, I’m buying in.

And we got there early and had good seats and everything was fine.
Um… until the commercials and previews were done.

That’s when the screen lit up and so did the left and right walls. We were surrounded by a promotional video that wrapped from the left wall, through the front screen, to the right wall, that showed off exactly what kind of theatre environment we were in. This, it became instantly clear to me, was Screen-X.

And Jackie said, “Uh-oh.”
And in my head, I did, too.
Because that’s when they showed a three-wall image of spheres… planets, maybe?… that the camera then began to twist through. And my stomach, which isn’t bothered by real world motion but has at times shown itself to be prone to being affected by convincing enough video game motion–I was sick to my stomach when playing an early LAN party game after hours at work, in which each player had a first-person view of a character who chased down the others in an arena complex to kill them with various types of crazy weapons, and I finished the first Portal game on my PC at home despite a lot of queasiness from the crazily twisting physics of that game (side note: I threw up in a garbage bin but kept playing the game at work, and ate a ton of candied ginger while playing Portal, because I’m a goddamn champ)–but yes, sure enough, my stomach was doing some gradual lurching with the visuals we were surrounded by.

I had Jackie do a time check at that point, almost as much for me as her, reminding her that theatre policy is that if you bail on a movie within 15 minutes of it starting, you can get your money back for the tickets. If we were going to pull the plug on this perhaps terrible, if sincerely well intended, Screen-X booking, we needed to do it soon.

Then the movie started and…

Nothing happened.

I mean… some things happened, but not what we were afraid of throwing up from concerned about.

If Far From Home was any indication, all that Screen-X does, despite its briefly mindfuck promo, is that there are some times during the movie where the walls light up and show an extension of the left and right sides of what you’re seeing on the screen. The opening scene, for instance, is a vehicle rolling through a street of a devastated town, and all that was offered on the left and right Screen-X’d walls was more of the building rubble you saw on the screen, following the vehicle as it moved.

Later in the movie, Spider-Man is on a rooftop (spoiler?), and the left and right walls of the theatre showed extensions of the building that was in the background of the shot.

There were long stretches–certainly the bulk of the movie–where the walls were just regular dark theatre walls.

Oh, and the times where the walls did light up and offer the extendo view of the sides of the main screen, they also weren’t as sharp. Movie screens are made to show crisp, clean, bright colours, and the images on walls were nowhere near that quality. So not only did they only offer (way) wider views of what’s on the sides of the screen, no action or characters or anything of any real interest, but also they didn’t do it nearly as well. There were even one or two moments on the rooftop where the shot would change angles again but the right wall was lagging and switched to the right image behind the left wall and main screen, which didn’t help my opinion of it.

I can’t say I’m not impressed by the technology, because it’s a pretty cool idea to effectively make more of the theatre more immersive for guests, but if this is the best that Screen-X can offer–and I don’t see how it can do a lot more without the original shooting of movies somehow being made to accommodate widths that are three times what they currently are, or shot with something like a seamless, three-angle camera to capture the action from all around the central point of viewing (and then… what, you have some characters on one wall talking to a character on another wall, or something? Talking across the theatre to each other, which would need guests to crane their heads around to follow what’s happening?)–then I’m fine with patiently waiting until it goes away.

Maybe Jackie and I are old school.
Maybe we’ll be considered stuck in our ways by our daughter and her generation and whatever theatres–holo theatres?–are offered in coming decades.
But for my money, just give me a comfortable seat with a quiet crowd to watch a movie on the one and only screen that’s directly in front of me, and pass the popcorn.