When the AMC Burbank 16 Dolby Cinema at Prime auditorium recently closed for the construction of a new video-wall entrance that is part of the Dolby Cinema experience, I was bummed. No one at the theater could give me a good estimate of when the auditorium would be reopened, and a new slate of movies graded in Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) had been announced around the same time—see my story about them here
. I knew I would miss seeing some of the new titles in that format, since the Burbank 16 room is currently the only Dolby Cinema location in Los Angeles. (The El Capitan in Hollywood has Dolby Vision projectors and Atmos sound, but that theater is owned by Disney, and it usually shows Disney titles.)
I did miss seeing The Perfect Guy in HDR, but I was surprised that the theater was opened last weekend to show Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials in Dolby Vision HDR and Atmos sound, so I bought a ticket and headed over there. When I arrived, the construction was not complete—ah, the smell of sawdust!—but AMC had opened the theater anyway, at least for this movie, which is supposed to be a real blockbuster.
A blockbuster it might be, but this is definitely NOT my kind of movie—yet another zombie-apocalypse story with nothing but running, fighting, more running, and more fighting, with twin threats from the evil WCKD (as uninspired a name as unobtainium in Avatar) and those pesky zombies. Plus, you really need to have seen Maze Runner to understand all the references to the first installment—not that it mattered much to me, since I couldn't have cared less for the characters or plot.
I was there to study the HDR, and for the most part, it was spectacular. In fact, it seems this movie was made with HDR in mind from the get-go. In several scenes, the main characters are exploring an unlit interior with flashlights, and the areas beyond the light beams were super-dark, yet they still had some visible detail. The brightness of the flashlights and daylight scenes—including one with the sun directly in the shot—was certainly higher than it would be in standard dynamic range, and the black level was definitely lower, making the image really pop.
There are several moments when the image fades or cuts to a full-screen black field, which literally disappeared rather than being a dark gray. However, there was a problem here—during these full-black fields, I noticed a sharply defined, slightly lighter band along the top 10% of the active image area, which disappeared when there was almost anything else on the screen. I looked around to see if there was any light source impinging on the screen, but I couldn't find one. Even stranger, this lighter band did not appear in the final black interstitial before the end credits. I find it hard to believe the band is in the image itself, but its absence in that last moment before the credits makes me wonder.
As for the Atmos soundtrack, it was quite impressive, with lots of helicopters and other objects flying around the room. The music was effectively mixed into the entire immersive soundfield as well. Unfortunately, my SPL app did not seem to be working correctly—it reported an Leq (average sound level over the entire movie plus trailers) of only 83.4 dBC, and I'm sure it was higher than that. As I expected for such a movie, it was very loud.
The only problem with the soundtrack was dialog intelligibility, especially the male voices, which sounded bloated and muddy. I don't know if this was in the DCP (digital-cinema package, the file delivered to the theater from the studio) or a problem with the theater's sound system. I thought it might be a result of the construction—maybe a worker bumped into something, knocking it out of alignment. I had the same thought about the lighter band at the top of the full-black fields, but I don't really know.
If you're a fan of Maze Runner—or zombie-apocalypse stories in general—you'll probably enjoy The Scorch Trials, though I recommend watching the first installment before seeing this one. And if you happen to live near a Dolby Cinema location—of which there are now eight in the US and two in Europe; for a complete list, click here
—I definitely recommend seeing it there. Hopefully, other locations don't have the problems I experienced in Burbank; if not, it's sure to be a stunning presentation.