West-side IMAX opens today with 'Tron'

12/17/2010 12:00 AM

01/05/2011 7:50 AM

A movie experience with an emphasis on the experience — the digital screen is six stories high — opens today at the Warren Theatre in west Wichita.

When the $118,000 curtain goes up on "Tron: Legacy" at noon, theater owner Bill Warren said, people will be getting the best IMAX experience there is. Two of the four showings of "Tron" today already are sold out.

"This is a gem" in Wichita, Bill Menke said Thursday. He is a corporate vice president of Warren Theaters who headed up the IMAX construction.

"It's one of the biggest screens in the world. It's the largest digital screen in the country."

When Warren starts to explain the "experience," it begins to sound like an amusement park ride, except you don't have to be strapped into the leather seats.

"It's kind of hard to understand unless you see the size of this monster and how it feels. It vaults you into it," said Warren, who expects the theater to be a huge tourist attraction for Wichita.

"IMAX is bigger, it's brighter, the sound is enhanced" as compared to normal-run movies, he said. "I call it a supercharged experience. It just puts you right in the scene."

Consider:

* The movies on the new screen — which has its own lobby, refreshment counters and restrooms on the southwest corner of the Warren Theatre at 21st and Tyler — will be IMAX-specific, either action movies or animated ones. Among the coming features are sequels to "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Cars" and "Happy Feet," along with the next "Harry Potter" film, premiering July 15.

"Every three weeks there's an IMAX movie coming out almost," Warren said. Regular-run movies will not be shown on the IMAX screen. And don't expect any dramas.

* There is a potential for getting sick during an IMAX movie. "It happens on some of our screens when the picture is in your whole field of view," said Dan Gray, vice president for operations. But it depends on the person and the movie, and maybe only a couple of scenes from a particular movie.

* The emphasis is on sound and sight. "Basically IMAX draws the viewer more into the movie than ever before," Gray said. It takes 60,000 watts of power to run the sound system.

"The projectors are the most powerful digital projectors in the world, and it takes two of them to light this screen,'' Warren said.

To give you an idea of the size: The screen is six stories high and almost 100 feet wide, compared with Warren's previously biggest screen, at four stories high and 90 feet wide, at the Warren on East 13th Street. The desire to make the IMAX theater bigger than what Warren already offered catapulted it to its ultimate size, Menke said.

Another thing that differentiates Wichita's IMAX theater from others is that it was built to IMAX's own specifications, Menke said.

"They have the geometry for the room and the height, and it's based on their designs,'' he said. "The sound is perfect from every seat in the auditorium."

A $7.2 million project

The IMAX was the costliest part of the $7.2 million project, which also included renovations to the other auditoriums in the 14-year-old west-side Warren, Menke said. The project is being financed by $16 million in industrial revenue bonds approved by the city. The bonds go toward the IMAX wing, the remodeling and refinancing $8.8 million in existing loans on the theater.

John Rolfe of Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau said he heard interest expressed in the IMAX theater at a recent tourism meeting in Topeka, and he expects people from around the region will drive in for the day or the weekend to catch a show.

Area residents may be familiar with IMAX from the theater at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson. But that one is different, Warren and Menke said. The Hutchinson screen is smaller, and it is a domed theater. It also is an older version of IMAX, showing movies made on film rather than digitally.

IMAX has been around for a long time, but it used to be expensive to shoot an IMAX movie on film, Warren said. With the advent of digital moviemaking, the cost has dropped, and the quality has improved, he said. Many IMAX movies also are shot in 3-D, giving even more depth to the experience (and requiring wearing 3-D glasses, of course).

IMAX ticket prices will cost $1 more for children and $2 more for adults than non-IMAX tickets, Warren said.

Excited movie fans

Movie buffs are eager to see flicks on the big, big, big, big screen.

"I've been looking forward to having that for a long time," Wichitan Dustin Parker said. "I'm curious to see what a Bill Warren IMAX theater is."

Parker said that his girlfriend has been a big 3-D fan, but some of the recent releases have fallen flat. Plus the 3-D glasses give him a migraine. Warren notes that despite the appeal of what technology offers, moviegoers will still demand some substance to the experience.

"I think 3-D movies are here to stay, but a bad movie is a bad movie whether it's 3-D or 2-D," Warren said. "I think you're going to see less 3-D movies made, but they'll be better."

Some old movies, such as "Star Wars," are reportedly in the works to become IMAXized.

"I'm just curious to see where IMAX is going to go," Parker said. "How they're going to be made differently. It's still kind of an untapped technology."

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