When going to the movies, don’t spend extra money for 3D or IMAX without checking the specs first

It’s holiday season so there’s a good chance you’ll go to theaters to enjoy a movie. There’s also a chance you’ll want to see a movie in 3D and/or IMAX. However, you’ll have to spend some extra cash to do that.

As a general rule, it’s not worth ponying up the dough to watch a movie in 3D or IMAX. The main reason is that the movie you’re seeing probably wasn’t filmed with a 3D or IMAX camera. To save money, most of the movies you see were filmed with a regular camera and had the 3D effects added in post production. The main side effect of that is that you’ll see 3D objects in a flat pop-up book type effect (not to mention the other negative effects you get when seeing a post production 3D movie, but that’s a post for another time). Whereas, if it were filmed with an actual 3D camera, you’ll get a much better effect – you’ll be able to see depth rather the the pop-up book feel.

It’s even worse when seeing an IMAX movie that wasn’t filmed with an IMAX camera. You’re basically seeing something at regular resolution blown up on a big screen. You’re not getting a better, cleaner picture at a higher resolution, you’re just getting a bigger picture. That’s it. To make matters worse, there are some “IMAX” screens that just aren’t as large as others. Basically, there are real IMAX theaters, and others that have bought an IMAX license and retrofitted an existing screen to be a bit bigger. Slashfilm has a great breakdown on the differences as well as where you can find real IMAX screens.

I’m not saying never see a movie in 3D or IMAX; some of them are fantastic in these formats. I loved Avatar in 3D and I can’t wait for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Avatar was filmed with a 3D camera, rather than done in post production, and the results are just gorgeous. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises filmed certain scenes in IMAX and I felt like I was part of those scenes when I watched it. Movies can be great in 3D and IMAX.

So how can you tell what camera was used for a movie you’re curious about? Just check IMDB.com! On my movie’s page, there is a “Technical Specs” section and a link to the full specs. There you’ll see the cameras used under the cinematographic section. It will say whether a 3D or IMAX were used. Here are the pages for Avatar and The Force Awakens.

While there’s no guarantee that 3D or IMAX will make a movie better or worse, hopefully at least knowing about the filming process will help you make a decision on whether to spend the extra bucks at the theaters.


Eileen Campbell from IMAX responded with clarifying comments.

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Bryan Damatan


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