Friday night, I saw Spider-Man 3 with Tanya. We saw it in Imax at the Gloucester Silver City Cinema and I’ve never seen an Imax film there. I work at an Imax theatre and we’ve shown a couple of the Harry Potter films so I have seen ‘regular’ films in Imax before. What’s new to me about Silver City Gloucester is it’s designed to show Imax conversions of conventional films exclusively. In my estimation, the ‘tallest’ aspect ratio the screen can accommodate is 1.85:1 so the 1.33:1 Imax movies could not be shown there.

Typical commercial films like Spider-Man are shot on 35mm film. The Imax film frame is ten times larger and they cannot simply enlarge the 35mm image to get an acceptable Imax result. While I can’t say for certain, I suspect the 35mm print goes through significant computer-based processing before it’s used to make an Imax print. The image quality impressed me. There was very little of the grain present in large-screen projection of 35mm prints. However, there was a softness to the image I wasn’t accustomed to because I’m more familiar with Imax films shot in Imax. Still, this softness was at least as sharp as a 35mm print, if not more so. What really impressed me was the steadiness of the image. This is a strength of the Imax projection process.

What disappointed me was the theatre itself. It used what was a 35mm theatre before retrofitting for Imax projection. Because of this, the screen wasn’t the monster you see in purpose-built Imax theatres. They did widen the screen as much as possible, but it appeared to me the theatre itself wasn’t enlarged so the screen width was limited by the side walls. They did take advantage of all the space however, making the screen bigger than in regular cinemas.

I suspect most people wouldn’t notice the difference. The difference is certainly there, but is it worth a 30% price premium? This depends of how much of an improvement you can see.

We arrived only minutes before the film started and walked into the pre-show presentation showing off the sound system. Unfortunately, the only visual portion of the presentation were laser graphics, which did nothing to illuminate the theatre. Thus, we were behind about ten people who also couldn’t see where they were going or if there were any empty seats. An usher armed with a flash-light did finally arrive, but one flash-light is only of help to the first people in the group.

Tanya got us seats in about the fifth row. Frankly, the size of the screen made the film too big at our viewing point. Conventional films are framed assuming the viewer can see the entire image without having to turn his or her head. This was not the case where we were seated. The fifth row at an Imax film is a choice seat, while the fifth row at a conventional film projected in Imax is too close.

I wasn’t impressed by the mother who sat beside us with two kids about five years old. Children so young seem to have little appreciation of the volume of their own voices. They either whisper, or talk quite loudly. Of course we experienced more of the latter than the former. Particularly disappointing was Mom’s reaction upon hearing one of her children say the monsters were scaring him. The first time she responded, “Why? It’s just a movie.” The second time she just shushed him. Lovely.

And then there was the jerk-off with the laser pointer. And the guy in front of us who seemed unable to resist checking his Blackberry a few times during the film. No wonder so many people have forsaken theatrical viewing for DVD.

As for the film itself, I think it is the worst of the three. Instead of just telling is a good story, the writers seem to have fallen all over themselves to wrap up the trilogy, and underscore the superheroes’ humanity. For a summer blockbuster, there is far too much navel-gazing and crying in this film. Wait for the DVD, if you must see it at all.

Spider-Man image ©2006 Sony Pictures Digital Inc.