The small screen is going big. On September 1, more than 1,000 IMAX cinemas around the world will show two episodes of Marvel’s Inhumans – two weeks before it hits TV.
“People won’t go to a theatre to watch any TV show,” says Richard Gelfond, CEO of IMAX. “I don’t think Modern Family in IMAX would be a hit. But we were looking for something that had scale and scope, a franchise that appealed to our millennial audience. I think Inhumans is going to work.”
As part of the deal, the first two episodes of the series were shot using digital IMAX cameras, with subsequent action scenes – such as those set on the Moon – also filmed using the technology. The idea struck Gelfond after IMAX screened two episodes of Game of Thrones in 2011: a week-long release that grossed $2 million (£1.5m) from fans wanting to see the show in a super-size format.
As the lines between the big and small screen become ever more blurred, Gelfond says the Marvel deal is about IMAX “eventicising TV”. But, swelled by bigger budgets, TV is happy to eat cinema’s popcorn. The growth of video-on-demand services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Now TV mean an increasing number of movies have their opening nights in the home. It’s a change that has put cinema into a “transition phase”, says Gelfond.
“The biggest challenge the film industry faces is attracting millennials,” he continues. “For decades, people had a habit of moviegoing. But millennials are used to seeing things when they want, where they want. In terms of releasing bigger films earlier in the home, it looks interesting in the abstract, but it’s a long way off. The traditional release pattern is just too economically attractive. The studio system is strong, and that’s not going to change overnight.”
As well as betting on TV, IMAX is also investing in virtual reality. In January, the company opened its first VR arcade in Los Angeles, with five more locations – including The Printworks in Manchester – launching later this year. But for Gelfond, the big screen’s core appeal should remain what it’s always been: bigger is better. “When I saw Beauty and the Beast in IMAX, it felt like I was at a show,” he says. “Over time, there’s a possibility to have a release limited to IMAX. You’ll see it from film-makers who aren’t happy releasing their films to small devices in the home. After all, they make films for the IMAX, not the iPad.”
Other big screen experiments
- Released in 1960, whodunnit movie Scent of Mystery was the first and only production to use Smell-O-Vision. The system sprayed specific whiffs on to cinemagoers, triggered by the film’s soundtrack.
- For when two or even three dimensions aren’t enough. The Sensorium, which debuted at the Six Flags theme park in Baltimore in 1984, combined vibrating seats with smells and surround sound.
- In 2003, James Cameron’s Ghosts of the Abyss premiered in 3D IMAX. A deluge of films have since received the 3D treatment, with mixed reviews.
- Secret Cinema
- Mixing movies with immersive theatre, Secret Cinema’s production of The Empire Strikes Back, held inside a disused printworks in London, attracted 100,000 people.