Infinity Cinema Now?

Ah, summer movies. The summer blockbuster tradition is relatively new, but summer moviegoing likely became a big thing when air conditioning was new and “Air Conditioning” on a theater marque guaranteed an audience.

But as I sat in a nearly empty local theater last week watching Avengers: Infinity War (it was a weekday afternoon and the movie had been out for 2 weeks), I wondered if the now ubiquitous Marvel Universe has painted itself into a corner. There are now too many characters to squeeze into a single film, even if some of the lesser lights were sidelined in this one (on holiday, perhaps—after all, only the future of the universe was at stake). So you have a gaggle of actors, each one of which is expecting significant screen time by getting his or her own little slice of the pie. That means a few meaty and/or witty lines for each of them and then off to the next battle. And if there’s one thing this movie isn’t lacking, it’s a next battle. And the next. And the next.

Am I the only moviegoer whose favorite superhero movies are still Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger? It’s no coincidence that these are both origin stories, and both were shot well before Marvel turned self-referential with a grandiose need to top itself with each new film. Both also had several strengths that Infinity War, not to mention the other overcrowded Avenger films, lack: breathing room, heart, a believably human scale (New York City is untouched in both of them!) and, most important of all, the possibility of the superhero not surviving. Thor also featured a near Shakespearean vibe courtesy of director Kenneth Branagh, as well as Patrick Doyle’s music—easily the best orchestral score of any of the Marvel films (the pop-infused scores of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies are special in a different way).

I won’t include any Infinity War spoilers here. But if you know going in that this movie is actually Part 1 of 2 (the second planned for next year), it lacks the emotional weight it might otherwise have. I knew about the impending sequel going in, since I saw it two weeks after it opened and sequelgate was common knowledge by then. Knowing that is roughly equivalent to hearing that The Sixth Sense has a major twist at the end before you see it. Armed with that small clue you’re much more likely to figure out the ending midway through.

Despite all of this I did enjoy the movie, though it did run a little long at 2.5 hours. I’ll likely buy the inevitable UHD Blu-ray to experience the movie in far better audio and video quality than my local theater offered. By the time I saw the film it had been pulled from the theater’s IMAX screen (a marginal IMAX at best) and was playing in two of the standard auditoriums. The image quality was a wondrous combination of dim and soft, enhanced by desaturated colors. (I’m still wondering if there was an intended meaning behind substituting various shades of gray for the now hirsute Captain America’s traditionally vivid red, white, and blue togs. He certainly didn’t need the camouflage here.) The sound was more tolerable, though no better than in an average theater.

During a trip to Los Angeles back in March I did manage to see Black Panther in a Dolby Cinema theater. I have concerns about the basic premise of that film in which a small, self-contained society builds the most technical advanced civilization on the planet with only a single important resource, no significant contact or commerce with the outside world, and a monarchical government. Even by comic book standards it does stretch credibility a bit. And the final battle ran on far too long (do I sense a trend here?). But I did enjoy it, helped immensely by a presentation that beautifully rendered its eye-popping production values,. This wasn’t my first experience with Dolby Cinema. But there are only 102 of them in the U.S. (and none within 150 miles of me). More are coming, but they’ll never be widespread. All of them are in AMC multiplexes (Dolby and AMC apparently have an exclusive contract) but most AMC locations don’t have one.

But make no mistake, Dolby Cinema is the current king of movie theater quality, not only for video but for audio as well. IMAX isn’t close (apart from the rare exception like the TCL Chinese in Hollywood, with its 90-foot wide screen). If you have a Dolby Cinema within driving distance and have been there you know what I mean. If you do have one nearby and somehow have managed to put off seeing a film there, do so the first opportunity. You’ll be back. And if you’re vacationing anywhere near a Dolby Cinema this summer (California, Florida, and Texas account for 42 of those 102 installations) Google Dolby Cinema Theaters for a list and put a visit to it on your agenda.

brenro's picture

Nearest one is 135 miles away. Well worth an overnight. Waiting for just the right movie.

drny's picture

Mr.T said succinctly: "I pity the fool"... I add, who doesn't get the opportunity to experience Blockbusters in a Dolby Cinema.
The visual impact is quite good (not always great), but Dolby Atmos is other worldly. No home Theater audio system can come close to matching the Dolby Atmos experience at a Dolby Cinema.
The Dolby Vision part of Dolby Cinema can indeed be match at Home.
Those who own a 77"OLED or Samsung's 78" KS9800 from 2016, better yet a Native 4k laser projector from Sony or JVC, can come close if not surpass the visual impact of a Dolby Cinema (sitting distance and ambient light are a major factor).
That is not the case with Dolby Atmos at home. Twenty four to Thirty six channels, low frequencies that move you to the chair behind you and acoustic sound treatment make it cost prohibitive to match the experience at home.
I am truly blessed that I have three Dolby Cinemas within one hour drive from my home.
My problem of course is that I am now spoiled. I do enjoy viewing my reference level UHD Blurays at home via my Epson 5040 projector and my Definitive technology STS surround system, with an additional sub.
But now I have to run to see the top releases on Dolby Cinema, fearing that I will loose out waiting to see them at home.
It's gets expensive folks.

K.Reid's picture

It Is not too cost prohibitive to match the sound a Dolby Atmos at home. The object based sound and most certainly the low frequency performance can readily be matched.

drny's picture

My comment regarding that we can't match the match Dolby Atmos at home refers to the experience.
The best 9.2.4 Home Theater system simply can't match the comprehensive experience of a Dolby Cinema Atmos Experience.
I'm not saying that such a Home Theater isn't highly impressive.
But usually it is volume, low Freqs and SPL levels that wows us in a Home Theater. In a Dolby Cinema its a more comprehensive experience.
Imaging, field depth of the sound is what makes the difference.

K.Reid's picture

I would agree that the ‘experience’ in its totality cannot be matched in a residential home; however, the sound for certain can be matched or exceeded in terms of overall quality (e.g. timbre, top end air, pitch definition, midrange liquidity, etc) and power. Your reference to imaging and sense of depth can be replicated. Of course, scale cannot be matched due to physics between a residential home and theater. The right speakers and upstream components can make the walls of a home seem like they disappear. Mind need the budget.....and the components and speakers you will not find at a local Best Buy. Getting the sound ‘experience’ .....can be done and convincingly so. The screen size and projector with laser light engine...well we can wish.

Nat8's picture

Summer blockbusters date back to Jaws, which was released on June 20, 1975. Within a few years, studios had mastered the summer blockbuster phenomena. Hence, Star Wars. Etc.

While Dolby Cinema is the best theatrical technology, it still can't beat a well done home theater where ATMOS can be optimized for a prime listening position and projector contrast can easily surpass even those two projector setups.

But it does make trekking to a theater and hassling with tickets, crowds, etc, more tolerable. And I am astonished that competitors like Cinemark have nothing with which to combat the tech. AMC, between their partnership with Dolby and their partnership with IMAX, is really leaving the competition in the dust. My wife watched the Cinemark "XD" trailer recently, extolling the high tech virtues of the technology, before a showing of Deadpool2, and thought it was sarcasm or satire since "XD" is to IMAX or DC what b/w TV is to a giant flat panel OLED.

K.Reid's picture

Tom, shame you did not get to enjoy Avengers in a Dolby Cinema. I saw it in both my flagship IMAX theater and a Dolby Cinema. My IMAX screen is larger and more immersive due to size but no comparison to the deep blacks and HDR with Dolby Vision and the sound was excellent if a bit loud.

Now come on the first Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger being better than Infinity have got to be kidding me. You need to give the Russo brothers more credit for assembling all these good actors and giving them solid screen time as well as developing a compelling story. The movie had plenty of heart and emotion (Thanos destroying Gamora’s people and ripping the mind stone from Vision’s head leaving him limp and lifeless). As far as heroes dying - Thanos killed his own daughter and you do not know what Iron Man’s fate will be given he was basically impaled. He used nanotechnology to only seal his wound.