In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”


Steve Jobs

The fact that he doesn’t try to redeem these flawed, fascinating figures—or even try to make you like them in the slightest way—feels like an…



Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is so punishing to one’s mental and physical being that the narrative should be divided…

Other Reviews
Review Archives

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…


Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Do 'Bourne,' 'Transformers' work on IMAX?

Guest commentary by Peter Debruge

I don't doubt that "Bourne Ultimatum" played on an IMAX screen [as recently reported], but it certainly wasn't an "IMAX movie." The company is very selective about which films it releases on its screens, going through a painstaking digital "up-resolution" process of optimizing the 35mm prints for their 70mm format. A movie like "Bourne" is clearly just about the least appropriate film for the Imax environment -- all that quick cutting and movement would be simply overwhelming. (Christopher Rouse, the "Bourne Ultimatum" editor and one of the best in the biz, warned me "I would not recommend watching "Supremacy" or "Ultimatum" from the first three rows of the theater!" and the IMAX experience pretty much makes every seat feel like the front row.)

Now, here's my theory on this whole quick-cutting phenomenon: By alternating quickly between shots, the directors, cameramen and editors effectively create an IMMERSIVE experience. Rather than allowing us to sit back and admire a handsome shot that encompasses all the action, they situate us in the middle of the action. We have to WORK to understand what's going on, constructing the geography of the space in our heads, as if we'd been dropped in the middle of the action. I can't think of a more perfect match for this technique than a "Bourne" movie. Why? Because the guy has amnesia, his mind is blank, and he's having to rediscover his own identity and environment as he goes. Given Greengrass' approach, we have to do the same thing as an audience. I don't often use the word, but I think it's fair to call the tactic "genius."

Now, as it turns out, "immersive" is also the word the IMAX folks repeat most often when pitching why their format is so superior, but they go about it in an entirely different way. They have a screen so big and wide that it encompasses your entire field of vision. Close-ups hurt. Quick cuts are confusing. A typical IMAX documentary features long, unbroken takes in which the audience can selectively swim around and pick out which details to attend to (see something in the upper right corner? you have all the time in the world to study it. did a movement on the left side of the screen catch your eye? Well, wander on over there to look around). The viewer is still doing work, but it's a different type entirely.

In the last few years, IMAX has been partnering with studios to adapt specific films for IMAX screens, working with the directors themselves to optimize the experience. They're extremely selective, both in content and in style. But recognizing that (a) they can charge more for IMAX tickets and (b) audiences want that experience for other movies as well, exhibitors have been throwing other blockbusters up there as well (I remember seeing a 35mm print of "Lord of the Rings" on IMAX, and a San Antonio theater offered "Jurassic Park"). But it's not the same thing. The brightness is weird (because IMAX screens are silver, to support their 3-D movies), the edges are distorted because of the curvature, and the aspect ratio (1:2.35 in "Bourne"'s case) looks strange on a nearly square IMAX screen, with lots of wasted space. Simply put: These movies were not meant to be seen this way.

All that said, IMAX just announced they would be adapting "Transformers" to screen beginning Sept. 21. Bad news in my book. The Michael Bay approach (specifically, the editing and camerawork) doesn't lend itself to IMAX AT ALL. But I suppose there's financial incentive to try it (and I bet if you looked close enough, you'd find that the same theater that projected "Bourne" on an IMAX screen probably showed a 35mm print of "Transformers" that way, too).

Popular Blog Posts

Of Rats and Men: “Black Mass” vs. “The Departed”

A comparison of Frank Costello in The Departed and Whitey Bulger in Black Mass reveals weaknesses in the latter.

NYFF 2015: "No Home Movie," "Microbe & Gasoline"

A NYFF report on new films from Chantal Akerman and Michel Gondry.

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

The Unloved, Part 22: "My Soul to Take"

Our monthly series digs into the career of Wes Craven and comes out with his 3D 2010 film, "My Soul to Take".

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus