Murphy’s Law – Sorry Gelfond, size does matter

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

As most of you know by now, J.J. Abram’s Star Trek film made $76.5 million in its opening weekend, which included a record-breaking $8.2 million in IMAX theaters. But what you may not know is that many of the IMAX patrons didn’t actually see the movie on the standard 76-foot IMAX screen. Instead, they watched Star Trek on a 25-foot screen using IMAX digital projectors, but they paid the same price as those who saw it on the giant screen (which was somewhere around $15).

In September 2008, Richard Gelfond, co-CEO of IMAX Corporation, decided not to make any distinction between theaters with smaller screens using IMAX’s new digital projectors and the theaters using the well-known 76-foot screens, even though AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment Group, IMAX’s two biggest digital partners, wanted to brand the new digital projector/smaller screen combo “IMAX Digital.”

Even though this new, inferior version of IMAX has existed since September 2008, it wasn’t until this week when Aziz Ansari (of Human Giant and Parks and Recreation fame) posted an update on his blog calling for a ban of what he dubbed “BULLSHIT IMAX” that the story got any mainstream traction.

Ansari saw Star Trek at one of the smaller-screen IMAX theaters and posted an angry diatribe on his blog. The blog post included the following conversation, which Ansari says he had with the guest service desk:

Aziz: Yes, I’d like my $5 back. I paid $5 extra for an IMAX screen and that’s not nearly as big as what I have known IMAX to be.
Guest Services: I can’t sir. Its IMAX quality picture and sound.
Aziz: But the screen isn’t big, that’s the whole reason I pay $5 more for IMAX.
Guest Services: Well sir, you watched the whole movie, you could have come out and we could have given you tickets to a different one.
Aziz: Why would I do that? I’d leave Star Trek, the movie I wanted to see and you’d give me a ticket for Ghosts of Girlfriends Past? Oh yeah that’s fair! No, you need to give me the $5 back, its the principle of it. Can I see a manager?

Manager: Sir, we can’t refund the money, you saw the whole film.
Aziz: I don’t want $15, I just want $5 cause AMC lied about IMAX.
Manager: Sir, I can give you popcorn and a drink.
Aziz: I don’t want to go home and drink a nasty soda and eat nasty ass popcorn. I want my $5 back. Its not about the money, its the principle of the matter, ITS NOT IMAX.
Manager: Sorry, I can’t do anything.
Aziz: You know what Twitter is? I have 25,000 followers, I’m tell 25,000 people you run fake IMAX’s and that they should boycott AMC.
Manager: I don’t really care sir.
Aziz: Yeah, I wouldn’t care either if I worked here, but you know you are in the wrong! You should give me $5!!
Manager: Ok here’s two free passes.

(I can only assume that Ansari was joking when he asked the manager: “You know what Twitter is?” I’ve always hated when actors play the “Do you know who I am?” card, but bringing Twitter into it would bring a whole new level of dick-ishness and sadness to the argument.)

Gelfond quickly responded to Ansari’s angry post.

“IMAX did 15 percent of Star Trek’s total domestic box office in the whole country on only 138 screens,” said Gelfond, adding that that number makes up less than two percent of all movie theaters. “This is compared to the earlier releases of Watchmen, where we did 12 percent of the box office and Monsters and Aliens, where we did around 10 percent. Clearly a lot of people are going back to IMAX theaters.”

Gelfond went on to add: “The overwhelming majority of comments on that guy’s blog this morning, more than 90 percent of them, are vehemently disagreeing with him. And consumers are confirming this with their continued purchases of tickets.”

This lead to another response by Ansari, who said Gelfond was lying about 90 percent of the comments being positive towards IMAX. Ansari went on to challenge Gelfond to a televised debate. (I think the debate would be more captivating if it were broadcast on giant 76-foot IMAX screens instead of on television, but perhaps Ansari is worried that would give Gelfond home field advantage.)

Since I seriously doubt that Gelfond will accept Ansari’s offer for a public debate, I think I’ll go ahead and settle this dispute now. Gelfond has already made his argument pretty clear. The IMAX CEO is using ticket sales as proof that people are happy with the smaller IMAX screens and yet he feels the need to trick those people into seeing the movie on the smaller screen by not differentiating between those theaters and the ones with 76 feet of awesomeness.

So basically, a bunch of people bought tickets to the IMAX screening of Star Trek this past weekend not knowing they were getting screwed on the screen size until they walked in the door. Or worse, people who had never seen an IMAX film before saw the movie on the smaller screen and didn’t even realize they were missing out. Either way, if Gelfond is going to claim that business is booming and people are willing to pay for the IMAX experience regardless of screen size, it doesn’t explain why he is so scared to differentiate between the two types of IMAX theaters.

Business may be thriving for IMAX now, but these types of shady business tactics will catch up with them in the end. Seeing The Dark Knight on a true IMAX screen was a great night for me; it was something special. By watering down that experience by claiming that watching these films on smaller screens for the same price is the same thing, in the long-run it will lose the company business.

That is if Aziz Ansari’s Twitter Army doesn’t take down the company first.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at

  1. Lee May 13, 2009
  2. Joel Murphy May 14, 2009
  3. Joelle May 14, 2009

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