Last night, I went to see G.I. Joe: Retaliation in 3D, not because I was interested in that particular movie—far from it. But it happened to be playing at a nearby theater with a singular distinction—it's the first and only commercial cinema to present a first-run 3D movie using a laser-illuminated projector.
The Christie projector is currently installed at the AMC Burbank 16 ETX auditorium in Burbank, CA, but it will be there only for another week or so. The projector is said to achieve a peak-white level of 14 foot-lamberts on the 65-foot-wide screen—in 3D! Most single-projector 3D images yield more like 4-6 fL once the light reaches your eyes through the glasses.
The movie itself is horrendous, IMO—basically an excuse for as much fighting and violence as possible. As such, it's also extremely loud. Using a Larson Davis 720 logging SPL meter, I measured an average sound level of 82.5 dBA over two hours and seven minutes (including the trailers), with the highest maximum level at 96.2 dBA. The level remained over 87 dBA 10 percent of the time, over 81.4 dBA 33 percent of the time, and over 78.5 dBA 50 percent of the time.
That's all within OSHA standards, but I still wore my custom-molded earplugs (-25 dB) the entire time, and I added noise-cancelling headphones for the really loud parts, which were very bass-heavy. As a result, I couldn't hear the full effect of the auditorium's Dolby Atmos sound system, but I've heard it before, so I wasn't concerned with that.
I was concerned with the laser-illuminated projection in RealD 3D. Overall, the image was reasonably bright, but not appreciably brighter than other 3D presentations I've seen. To be fair, most of the 3D I see in commercial cinemas uses two projectors (Imax and ETX), so if this one projector can compete with two lamp-based projectors in the brightness department, that's pretty impressive.
I did see some occasional speckling—what looks like film grain—in some shots, which is one of the bugaboos of laser projection. The movie was originally shot on film using Arriflex and Panaflex cameras, so some film grain might be expected, but there was none that I could see in most of the images, which leads me to believe what I did see was laser speckling.
If you like non-stop action with very little else, you'll probably enjoy this movie. The visual effects are beautiful—I especially liked the bungee-cord fight on the face of a sheer cliff, sort of like what they do in Cirque du Soleil's KA at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. And it's somewhat amusing to hear Jonathan Pryce—who played the villain in Tomorrow Never Dies—try to do a vaguely Southern American accent as President of the United States.
The 3D was created in post-production, and it isn't all that great—it becomes more or less evident in different shots, drawing attention to itself. And there's a fair amount of stuff that flies out at you, which is never a good thing. If you're not a big fan of 3D, this won't change your mind.
Also, the color wasn't very good; in particular, flesh tones seemed a bit orange. I don't know if this was due to the laser illumination or an intentional choice by director Jon Chu.
Laser projection has a lot to offer, including brighter 3D and light-source longevity. Whereas conventional xenon lamps must be replaced every few hundred hours or so at significant cost, laser engines should last for many thousands of hours before needing replacement. And of course, as this technology matures, we could see it in home-theater projectors—for example, the Red Digital Cinema projector that was announced a year ago but has yet to appear in the market. In any event, it's always fun to watch the future unfold.