With movie theaters offering a variety of premium formats, audiences often now have choices beyond what film to watch. In the recent years, we have seen rise in online debates over whether to see a film in IMAX or Dolby Digital, 2D or 3D, dine-in or not, recliner or regular seats. CJ 4DPLEX has made the decision-making even more difficult, offering two additional premium formats to choose from. While their 4DX has been around longer and is more well-known, ScreenX is an even more recent innovation in the efforts toward a more immersive cinematic experience. ScreenX is similar to IMAX in some ways, but with the image being wider instead of taller. However, this description alone doesn’t do the experience justice. While IMAX may give you additional screen/image look at, ScreenX is more about utilizing peripheral vision in order to feel as though you are inside the film. I think a more apt description would be to compare it to 3D, without the need for glasses or the use of cheap gimmicks.
But what exactly is ScreenX? It claims to be the world’s first multi-projection system used in a theater setting, though I believe there is some precedent for this in film history. Cinerama premiered in 1952 as a widescreen process that used three synchronized 35 mm projectors to create a 146-degree field of vision. They were projected onto a special curved screen in the still running Cinerama Dome. ScreenX offers a 270-degree panoramic viewing experience, and they don’t rely on a curved screen at all. Instead, ScreenX theaters expand the image directly onto the side walls, which they call “Wings.” These special walls are specifically created with a fabric that allows the projected images to match the center screen. That center screen will play the film as you would see it in any theater, while the images put on the side walls by up to twelve laser digital projectors are made up of specially created material to match the color and brightness of the screen.
As is also often common with IMAX, only specific scenes are given the additional material, while the rest of the film just utilizes the center screen, as one would normally expect from their theater experience. As impressive as it is when those side walls light up, it is also has the unintentional effect of reminding audiences that they are watching a movie. It is ironic that the arrival and departure of this immersive experience actually has the opposite effect, and may take some audiences out of the story. Here’s where Birds of Prey really shines in this format. Clearly modeled after Marvel’s highly successful Deadpool franchise, Birds of Prey wants you to be aware that you are watching a movie. Narrator Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, returning to the role she made her own in Suicide Squad) talks directly to the audience, and seems to have control over the non-diegetic material. In other words, the film’s style attempts to put the audience into the head of Harley, and the additional material ScreenX adds just enhances this effect.
Past ScreenX films I have viewed simply utilize the wings to expand the image within the film, so that you see details and action beyond the frame. This is very effective in world-building shots in sci-fi and fantasy, as well as creating more immersive action sequences. While Birds of Prey does this as well, the ScreenX content really shines when it is allowed to insert content that is thematic and non-diegetic, seeming to be an extension of the thoughts that Harley is narrating to us throughout the film. These added visual treats and gags layer the already excessively hyperactive storytelling for a wholly unique viewing experience. For instance, when Harley imagines a halo over a character she sees as a savior, the theater wings also flash a pair of literal wings (of the angel variety). You may be able to see the IMAX formatting when the films are released on disc, but a ScreenX theater is the only way to experience Birds of Prey this way.
Even without the postmodern approach to storytelling, Birds of Prey has seamless ScreenX transitions. What I mean is, when the film goes from having content on the wings to not, or vice versa, it is never as jarring as some of my past ScreenX experiences. The transitions happen on beats that feel natural. Occasionally content will flash for just a brief moment, for impact. Other times it fades away without distracting from the film’s plot. Overall, this felt like something created by the filmmakers themselves. In fact, I ended up liking the film more than I think I would have in a standard theater viewing experience.