Gaming with Ender

A week ago this past Monday I was fortunate to be one of Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer TCL’s guests at the premier of Ender’s Game at the TCL Chinese IMAX Theater in Hollywood. (The theater is still best known as Grauman’s Chinese; see my earlier blog here about TCL’s purchasing and remodeling this classic movie palace into an IMAX theater with stadium seating).

We didn’t get to rub shoulders with the cast, of course, but rather viewed the film from a private TCL box at the upper rear of the auditorium. Sounds plush, but it was a small space with (as I recall) six seats, and still awaiting its final finish. There’s also an adjoining TCL reception room that’s currently a pre- and post-show break room but eventually will also offer demonstrations of TCL’s video products to visiting VIPs.

More interesting than these special facilities, however, were pre- and post-show conversations with TCL PR and marketing personnel (the company is set to make a big splash at the upcoming CES in Las Vegas, and the introduction of a $1000 (!) TCL 4K set is imminent), the movie itself on the theater’s 96-foot (wide) screen, and a post show visit to the theater’s projection booth.

There are actually two separate projection systems at the Chinese, installed in a split-level booth. The higher up of the two uses a pair of 4K Christie digital projectors, the lower features a pair of 2K IMAX projectors built by Barco. The obvious purpose for two projectors is for 3D, but for this presentation both of the IMAX projectors were used simultaneously; Ender’s Game is 2D only. Using both projectors in 2D reportedly produced a light output of 22 ft.-L on that huge screen.

The presentation was pristine, apart from a somewhat disappointing black level and shadow detail. This is an ongoing issue in commercial theaters that have installed the special screens needed for 3D—screens that aren’t necessarily optimum for 2D projection. This was only an occasional distraction here, but there were several scenes in the film that could really pop on a projection system with truly deep blacks—a system more likely to be found in a good home theater rather than a commercial cinema. Potential demo material for CEDIA 2014, perhaps?

The upper-level 4K Christie projectors were not used in this presentation, and are apparently used less often than the IMAX pair because of their more extreme offset angle to the screen. Interestingly, when portions of the Thor sequel were tested there on both sets of projectors, studio observers reportedly preferred the 2K IMAX Barcos—and not simply because of their superior positioning.

I found the movie itself, based on a classic science fiction novel, a bit cold and dispassionate. That may merely reflect the book, which I haven’t read. But I enjoyed the film enough to want to see it again theatrically, and will grab the Blu-ray when it comes out. In fact the film may actually be more interesting to those of us unfamiliar with the Ender saga simply because we can’t anticipate where it’s going.

One critic has referred to the movie as “Harry Potter in space,” and with several sequel books waiting to be filmed, as well as three prequel novels that lead up to the events in Ender’s Game, such a franchise is clearly what the studio is hoping for. I have read two of the prequel books (Earth Unaware and Earth Afire—the third has not yet been published), and the potential movies played out in my head as I read them. They’re compellingly cinematic and packed with action and suspense—ideal fodder for today’s movie audiences.

Of course, a premier being a premier, this industry presentation was a bit different than most theatrical showings. As the credits roll, the packed house of over 900 would cheer as each entry scrolled by. Key Grip…Joe Schmoe. Yea, Joe, way to go!