Alita: A ScreenX Experience

        CJ 4DPLEX is a technology company that is probably best known for their 4D technology, which started in South Korea but has expanded across the globe with increasing momentum over the last decade. Although 4DX is certainly impressive enough, ScreenX is an even more recent innovation in the efforts toward a more immersive cinematic experience. I have heard ScreenX described as IMAX, but with the image being wider instead of taller, though this doesn’t quite do the experience justice. While IMAX may give you more to 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.

        Although I had experienced a few key scenes of Aquaman in ScreenX (most notably The Trench sequence, which was memorable enough for a spin-off film to be put into development), the first full film I watched was Alita: Battle Angel. The film itself didn’t blow me away (live-action adaptations of anime rarely do), but I was impressed by how effective the immersive experience of ScreenX was when there were images projected on the side walls. The biggest problem that I had with the experience was the fact that it wasn’t a feature-long effect. As is also common with IMAX, there were only specific scenes that 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. It is my hope that the ScreenX experience will someday be from start to finish of the film. 

        Alita: Battle Angel is out in theaters today, so audiences can experience it in ScreenX now. It is also being shown in 4DX, IMAX, RPX and 3D, but I think it is worth mentioning what makes watching it in ScreenX unique. Although I don’t remember it playing that heavily in the trailer, a large part of the film’s plot revolves around a dangerous game that many will accurately accuse of resembling Rollerball. Derivative as it may be, these sequences are among the most exciting in ScreenX, because there is the feeling that we are on the race/battle course alongside Alita. More expected are the world-building moments of ScreenX. Like 3D, it is the beyond-the-screen elements which can be most helpful in creating the sense that we aren’t just sitting in a movie theater. When Alita opens up to show us the future society, the additional heaps of discarded technology and electric signs in the distance become a world surrounding the audience.

I would argue that these quiet moments of setting exposition and development are where ScreenX is really able to expand on the creative vision of the filmmakers. And in Alita, the experience was seamless. The biggest complaint about Cinerama in the 1950s and 60s was the fact that you could visibly see the line where the images from the separate projectors met, and they often shook slightly out of sync with each other. Not only has the technology been improved for a seamless connection in ScreenX, but the entire experience has the potential to enhance films, even for those who often feel 3D is too much of a gimmick to enjoy. And knowing that ScreenX has been combined with 4DX overseas, I would guess that it is only a matter of time before that is also an option in the United States.



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