Is Ster-Kinekor’s Imax experience worth R99?

Going to the movies isn’t cheap these days.

To watch the latest release in a normal Ster-Kinekor cinema will cost you R52 to R62 without any club card discounts – and if you want to see the same release in 3D, a ticket will set you back R66 to R79, before you even buy the glasses.

Then, if you’re feeling particularly fancy, selected cinemas have a Prestige option, which will set you back R110.00 for added comfort and sort-of special treatment.

Ster-Kinekor has now added yet another option for Gauteng movie-goers with the launch of Ster-Kinekor Imax at The Grove in Pretoria.

The ticket price? R99 a pop. And you will probably want a big box of popcorn, too.

Gauging the value proposition of Imax is a difficult task. For R99, one would expect the ultimate movie experience – and in many respects, that is what you will get.

Visuals and sound

Ster-Kinekor and Imax claim that every frame of the movies being shown in these theatres have been digitally remastered to enhance the visual quality on its screens.

Additionally, the companies say that the sound has been specifically mixed for its proprietary audio systems to, again, offer the best possible quality and experience.

There was nothing apparent or evident to counter these claims.

While this isn’t a movie review, it’s important to point out that the quality of the movie being watched is a big factor in determining the value of the experience, and Transformers: Age of Extinction is not a bad choice to show off what Ster-Kinekor’s new cinema can deliver.

The movie’s visuals presented on such huge screen are shown in such vivid detail that even contrived dialogue between a father and his teenage daughter and their family dramas still at least looks really stunning.

Of course, it’s when the explosions and finer CGI effects take place — Michael Bay staples — that the real eye-popping value of the bigger screen and dual projectors become apparent.

Ster-Kinekor Imax at The Grove – taken from the back of the cinema

3D experience

3D in normal cinemas has drawn a lot of criticism since the trend caught on a few years ago. Complaints typically revolve around blurry visuals, strained eyes and images simply being too dark to see what’s going on — and in my experience, these issues persist even today.

That said, Imax 3D is probably the best 3D cinema experience I’ve had.

The experience may well be different for many. Eyesight is, after all, not uniform for all and a lot of the quality lies in how the movie was shot or post-processed — but the dual projectors delivered on the promise to keep images bright, so there were no blackout moments; and even sitting on the far left side of the cinema, no single part of the screen felt out of focus or a pain to view.

Of course, nothing is perfect – this railing was poorly positioned and obstructed my view.

But is it worth it?

Most arguments against spending R99 to watch a movie at IMAX will boil down to how much better the experience is to a typical movie-going trip, or even watching a movie at home.

A lot of people already feel that R50 for a trip to the movies is pushing things too far, and there is little to justify the experience over, say, reclining in your lazy-boy at home and enjoying that home theatre system you picked up specifically so you could avoid sitting in a dark room full of strangers who chew popcorn way too loudly.

Then there are the arguments about “old” Imax versus “new” Imax, which essentially boils down to screen size and digital quality versus analogue quality of picture and sound. When people make a point of getting the Imax experience, they expect the Imax experience.

Some vocal South African movie-goers lament the fact that, as a digital cinema, the “new” Imax is of a lesser quality than its now-defunct analogue counterparts, with movies playing on a smaller screen and thus delivering a lesser experience than of old.

However, the fact is that this is the only Imax we have, and it’s probably fairer to weight it up against what is currently available.

IMAX panorama
IMAX panorama

Is the Ster-Kinekor IMAX experience better than a normal cinema experience? Undoubtedly.

Is it the defining experience? It certainly beats out the available options.

Will it become the norm? Unlikely – but with another Imax cinema coming to Eastgate Mall in the second half of 2015, it’s a growing option for movie going audiences in South Africa.

In the end, if you absolutely must watch the likes of Mark Wahlberg test the limits of his emotional range amid explosions and fighting robots on the big screen, you could do a lot worse than forking out an extra R20-R33 to see it play out on Imax.

If, however, you’ve already given up on cinemas at the current ticket prices and prefer watching the action at home, then a bigger screen, clearer sound, and brighter 3D visuals are unlikely to sway you.

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Is Ster-Kinekor’s Imax experience worth R99?