As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I looked forward to checking out Star Trek Beyond on its opening weekend. Since it’s a special-effect spectacular, I wanted to see it in Dolby Vision HDR with Atmos sound. Unfortunately, the closest Dolby Cinema theater is a two-hour drive from where I live. So, unlike Scott Wilkinson who saw it at his local Dolby Cinema in Burbank, I settled for IMAX 3D at my local cinema, the Regal Riverview Plaza Stadium 17 in Philadelphia.
The movie theater offered a variety of viewing choice including IMAX 3D, RPX 2D, RPX 3D, Real3D, and plain old 2D. The 7 p.m. IMAX 3D screening was ideal for my timing purposes. I did not think much of the choice, especially since I have enjoyed 3D presentations in the past. When I arrived there with my Trek-loving friend Josh, we were surprised to see a near-empty theater. As a result, we were able to sit centered to the screen and at an optimal distance (the seventh row).
It took mere minutes for my 3D ambivalence to turn into 3D regret. Instead of being blown away by the added depth, I found myself distracted by 3D’s shortcomings. An obvious drop in brightness, contrast, and color saturation (due to the polarized glasses) was disappointing but not unexpected. Additionally, I witnessed visible ghosting in many scenes—especially space scenes—which was distracting and annoying.
As the movie played, I kept closing one eye to see how various scenes appear in 2D versus 3D. While the added dimensionality 3D offers was apparent in many cases, the novelty of 3D has worn off. I find it no longer enhances my appreciation of a movie and I was surprised at how indifferent I felt about the extra sense of depth it provides. A crisp, artifact-free 2D HDR presentation offers a more compelling visual experience than 3D.
During that screening, I would have traded 3D for high-quality 2D projection in a heartbeat. While Dolby Cinema offers the current gold standard for picture quality in a commercial theater, I’d be pleased with the DLP-based 2D IMAX projection I saw during the previews. That small taste of high-quality 2D evoked a feeling that 3D was doing more harm than good.
On the audio side of the experience, I was quite pleased with the sound in the IMAX auditorium. It was remarkably clear and precise, and I never heard a single peep from an adjacent theater so kudos for that! However, the audio lacked the complete sense of immersion offered by Dolby Atmos.
There are not a lot of movies that I would pay to see in a theater, so I don’t expect to go to a commercial cinema more than few times a year. When I take a trip to see a movie, I want the experience to be as good as possible. As far as I’m concerned, that means skipping 3D and (if necessary) taking a trip to Times Square for a Dolby Cinema presentation. Hopefully Dolby Cinema will come to Philly soon, so I can experience that level of quality without having to go to another city. I’m officially done with 3D.