Thursday, July 28, 2016

Should You See "Star Trek Beyond" in Barco Escape?

I have now seen "Star Trek Beyond" twice in a week.  I enjoyed the movie so seeing it twice was not a chore by any stretch of the imagination, but my reasons for seeing it a second time so soon were more for research purposes.  I first saw the film with my family at the Esquire IMAX theater in Sacramento, CA, where it was presented in glorious 3D that took full advantage of the films settings and action sequences, making it one of the best 3D experiences I've had at the movies this year.  However, I heard shortly afterwards about this new theater format called Barco Escape, which was being developed as this new, immersive screen that would surround the audience.  It has been developed to compete with IMAX and Dolby Cinema, and with "Star Trek Beyond," about thirty minutes of the movie were made specifically with this format in mind.  Being someone who always wants to see a film the way its film makers intended it to be seen, I called a friend (let's call him Zach the Mac) to see if he wanted to see the movie in this new format with me.
 

 
So we drove to the Palladio 16 Cinemas in Folsom, CA, where we were surprised to find the ticket price was no more or less expensive than a standard 2D ticket price.  We arrived just in time for the pre-movie intro, where one of the producers explains how the Barco Escape worked.  Basically, there are three screens.  One in the center and two on the sides.  For the most part, only the center screen will be on, but for a few sequences (mainly ones involving the Enterprise fighting in space) the other two screens will turn on and show expanded images, thus immersing the audience more deeply into the action.  In way, this isn't much different from how certain IMAX movies have expanded images at the top and the bottom of the screen, only this time the images literally circle you.  Here's the thing about Barco Escape though: This isn't the first time this sort of cinematic experience has been attempted before.  In fact, this is pretty much an exact modern day replica of Cinerama.

The image you see above is what a Cinerama Theater looks like (seeing as how there is one still in operation in Hollywood, CA, you can still check it out for yourself if you so desire).  The screen was developed to be given a "curved" look, which would sort of wrap around a movie theater that was presented in a dome.  Dome theaters are pretty rare these days, so Barco Escape has taken a different approach...

...by just sitting three 2.35:1 aspect ratio scenes next to each other.  Now, I should probably mention that the photo you see above is likely how the screen was designed to be exhibited in theaters.  The screen me and Zach the Mac went to was previously a regular screen that was converted to this new technology.  I understand that sometimes theaters just have to make do with space that they already have, but - as IMAX learned the hard way - this sort of conversion can lead to many compromises in the actual experience.  For instead of the screens surrounding the audience, they were sort of parched up in the air.  To be on an even viewing field an audience member would have to sit in the back of the theater, at which point they would sort of be surrounded by the screens, but not really.  For that matter, the closer you are, the more you have to look up at the screens.

We sat in the center row of the theater, in seats that were more on the right.  This meant that whenever the Barco Escape scenes started, the image was a mixed bag.  The left screen and center screen looked fine, but the right screen always seem to have an image that never really connected with the center screen.  Had we been at a theater where the screen and seats were made from the ground up to compliment each other, maybe this wouldn't have been an issue, but in a converted theater, I sense there are a very select ground of seats where the full experience can even be felt.  For that matter, the fact that there was only 30 minutes of the movie that took advantage of the other two screens became a distraction.  Even when all three screens were in use, the only screen that really mattered was the center one.  This is obviously because the film makers knew not many theaters could screen the film in this way (only 24 if my research is correct), so they wanted to make sure the movie looked consistently good with only one screen.


When the other two screens weren't in use (which was often), the center screen was so small and distant, that I almost didn't feel like I was in a movie theater.  Again, had this been a native Barco Escape theater, maybe this wouldn't have been an issue, but in a converted theater, the center screen was just noticeably small.  A small screen is exactly the opposite of what I want when I go to a movie theater.  Now, in all fairness, its not like Barco Escape is the only specialty viewing experience that comes with handicaps.  With 3D films if you view the screen from too much of an angle the effect might be blurry, and sitting in the first three to five rows at an IMAX film makes the screen too big to really see anything.  The difference with those experiences is that only a small number of seats are affected by (what I'm going to call) their 'viewing handicap.' Barco Escape, on the other hand, seems to have a MAJOR viewing handicap for not just a few seats, but a vast majority of the theater!

There were only two times during "Star Trek Beyond" when the surrounding effect seemed to be working at 100% capacity, and they both involve the Enterprise flying in a curve, so there was no image distortion from the three screens.  To give the folks at Barco Escape some credit (as I'm sure I must seem like a villain to them at this point), when the effect did work, it was REALLY good!  If they can figure out how to make this more consistent and not as visually limiting, it could be a really fun experience for certain films.  As it stands though, if you want to watch this movie and feel immersed in everything, I have to suggest seeing a 3D screening of the film instead (probably not surprising coming from me).

Since this IS a 3D website I should mention that none of the Barco Escape theaters are showing "Star Trek Beyond" in 3D!  I'm not sure if they are capable of 3D projection, but it seems pretty obvious why they aren't doing this now.  Considering that 3D screens need to be centered perfectly to get the most out of the effect, putting 3D images on screens that will be viewed with side glances by the audience most likely won't work.  If it did, it would likely look terrible.  Maybe one day (should they care to) they will figure it out, but for the time being I wouldn't expect that to be a huge priority for the company.


To anyone at Barco Escape who might be reading this, I assure you that, despite how this must sound to you, I didn't completely hate my experience.  Sure, it didn't work very often and I think there are huge issues to work out.  But hey, 3D movies weren't that great at first, and look where they're at now.  Despite my miserable experience at this thing, the idea behind it intrigues me to no end.  Maybe if I attend one of the native theaters and have more than 30 minutes worth of footage to judge, I may like the experience more.  Like I said before: The concept intrigues me.  That said, because I am a film critic first, if readers want to see "Star Trek Beyond" in the best possible way and can only afford to do so once, then the IMAX 3D version is hands down the way to go.  It's immersive and consistent the entire two hours, where the Barco Escape version is a mixed bag.  I look forward to seeing where this format goes in the future though.


1 comments :

  1. I saw this at the same theater, the fan noise from the 2 additional projectors that were mounted on the ceiling ruined the movie for me, making it hard to hear. I haven't been too impressed with this theater in general, they seem to be showing many 3D movies only in 2D lately and all of their screens are common-width apparently with no masking (they did at least properly mask the screens for Star Trek in Barco Escape.)

    ReplyDelete