New IMAX theater plans Hollywood feature films

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Utah will get its second IMAX movie theater in September - and this one will play Hollywood blockbusters on its bigger-than-big screen.

IMAX Corp. and Larry Miller's LHM Group announced Thursday that the Cricket Superscreen, the 450-seat, large-format theater at the Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons in Sandy, will be retrofitted into an IMAX theater.

The Superscreen will close Monday and reopen sometime in September with IMAX versions of the summer hits "Batman Begins" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," said Megaplex 17 theater manager Cal Gundersen.

On Sept. 23, "Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D," will open. The Tom Hanks-produced documentary reproduces the experience of the Apollo astronauts.

Gundersen said the Megaplex also plans to bring in the IMAX version of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" in November.

For film fans, the IMAX screen size and the amount of detail afforded by the larger-than-normal 70mm film stock can be a breathtaking experience.

Web journalist David Poland gushed about watching the IMAX 3D version of "The Polar Express" compared with seeing the movie in a regular theater. "One is an original oil painting, the other a lithograph," Poland wrote in November on his Web site, The Hot Button. "If you see 'The Polar Express' in any way other than in IMAX 3D, trust me, you haven't really seen 'The Polar Express.' "

When the Megaplex 17 opened in November 1999, the Superscreen featured a projector from one of IMAX's rivals, Megasystems Inc. That projector used a 70mm film whose frame image is about half the size of a frame of IMAX film.

"That version of large-format is dying," Gundersen said, adding that major studios such as Warner Bros. and Disney have embraced the IMAX DMR (for digital remastering) technology.

"This gives us a lot bigger library, both in DMR and in educational films," Gundersen said. "The options for the movie-going public and for us as an exhibitor are just fantastic."

Jim Erickson, manager of Utah's existing IMAX theater at the Clark Planetarium at The Gateway, said the arrival of IMAX at Jordan Commons will "raise the bar for quality entertainment."

"Success breeds competition," Erickson said, adding that a second IMAX in the Salt Lake Valley "just means we've had success here, so others want to take advantage of that success."

The Megaplex IMAX will be a commercial theater, Erickson said, while the planetarium's is considered an "IMAX institutional theater." He added the Salt Lake County-owned planetarium's focus on educational films will remain intact.

While the planetarium has passed on Hollywood films (such as the last "Star Wars" installment) in IMAX format, Erickson said, "we brought in 'NASCAR [3D]' last year. It was educational, but it was in that gray area between education vs. entertainment."

The two IMAX theaters may butt heads in that gray area. Erickson said the planetarium is trying to book "Magnificent Desolation" when it opens nationwide Sept. 23, but he isn't sure if the Megaplex's deal will block that.

"If you had questions [about space] after you saw that show, where would you want to get those questions answered? By those who definitely know that business, or a commercial theater?" Erickson said.

"There's not too many major American cities that have two IMAX theaters," Gundersen said. "We're going to be spoiled."