I went to see Avatar for the first time about 2 weeks ago at an AMC theater in Northern Virginia. It was an IMAX screening at one of those micro-IMAX theaters that the theater chain is constructing around the nation. I won’t get into the controversy of calling slightly enlarged screens IMAX-screens and charging extra for the ticket, other than to say that if you have ever been to a “true” IMAX there is a world of difference between the two.
The whole time I was watching the movie at this particular AMC, I found that I could see the 3D effects, but I was really having to strain my eyes to follow the movement of the camera and get the full effect. I had to take at least four 2 minute breaks from the glasses and close my eyes, and by the time I was done I had a severe headache. While I enjoyed the film, and was blown away by the immersion of the 3D, I found that I could not give a recommendation to others to see it as it took me a few hours to recover from the experience.
I kept hearing from a few other people who saw the film at a different theater, and they reported none of the problems that I had. So I opted to conduct an experiment and see if it was my problem or if the theater showing the movie is somehow not calibrating the projector properly. I will note for the record that I have 20/20 vision, had not been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, had not used a computer about three hours before going, and had a good night’s sleep the night before and was not under some kind of sleep deprivation.
My control was to sit in the exact same position as the first viewing: dead center-last row of the theater. The variable was going to see it a different AMC IMAX theater in a different part of Northern Virginia. Same rules as before; early evening showing, no booze or other substances, and minimal computer use before going to the show, and no caffeine to over stimulate my senses.
I could not believe the difference between the two viewings: I didn’t suffer from any headaches, eye strain, have to take any breaks or any other problems other than the usual restlessness that can sometimes set in from sitting in one spot for more that two hours. I found the colors and 3D effects more vivid and easy to see, the action sequences less blurry, and the experience as a whole everything that the hype lead me to believe.
If anyone walked away from Avatar with any of the problems I encountered, or weren’t blow away by the 3D effects, I recommend seeing it again but at a different theater. The first AMC I mentioned I have noticed that the visual quality at its non-IMAX screens are inferior to comparable screens at the second AMC a few miles away. It might be an issue of quality control and insufficient attention to the projection equipment, as I cannot imagine another explanation as to how two theaters built at roughly the same time could have such disparity as they are part of the same chain in neighborhoods of the same suburban demographics.