When I sat down at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown (621 S. Western Ave.), I was sure I was in the wrong place. I was there to see a movie in the new ScreenX format, but the theater had a normal-sized screen. I couldn’t imagine how it would provide the promised 270-degree viewing area. (Yes, 270, as in way more than half of 360.) When the movie started, and nothing seemed special, l left to ask a cashier at the concession stand about the ScreenX technology. She assured me that I was in the right theater and said the picture would extend onto the walls, but it doesn’t do that all the time. So, if you want to go check out the latest theater tech to hit L.A., and you’re like: OK, where is my amazing transcendent futuristic movie experience? It’s there. It’s all around you, even when it’s not.
What Is ScreenX?
ScreenX is a new kind of viewing experience that wraps the picture around much of the audience, making the movie-going experience more immersive. The multi-projection system can be installed in existing theaters, because it works by extending the movie off of the main screen and onto the theater’s side walls. One of the first Hollywood movies to be converted to the new format, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, is showing at CGV Cinemas in Koreatown until June 15. Only three theaters in the United States are currently equipped with ScreenX technology—the AMC Town Square 18 in Las Vegas, and the CGV Cinemas in Buena Park and Los Angeles. To get a sense of how it works, watch the ScreenX version of the Dead Men Tell No Tales trailer.
Does ScreenX Live Up to Expectations?
Not exactly. That trailer is a bit misleading, because it makes it look like the entire movie has received the ScreenX treatment, and that isn’t the case. For most of the movie only the center screen is used.
When I returned to my seat in the theater, I got my first peek at ScreenX. An ocean scene filled the main screen and flowed onto the side walls thanks to a set of projectors near the ceiling. The main screen was the same size, but the visuals extended down the walls and into the audience’s peripheral vision. Of course, theater walls also have things like doors with lighted “exit” signs, so they aren’t a perfect viewing surface. Even so, ScreenX had my attention. The extra-wide ocean looked great—and then it was gone.
I’d estimate that only 10 to 15 percent of Dead Men Tell No Tales included the extended visuals, but when the ScreenX technology was used, it was a lot of fun. It was hard not to appreciate the panoramic view in an underwater scene that gave the zombie pirates’ undead sharks a wider swimming area.
Are More Movies Coming to ScreenX?
The technology is still very new. It was created in 2012 by the Korean company CJ CGV, and Dead Men Tell No Tales is the first Disney movie to be converted into the new format. At times, the digital effects felt like a test case. Whenever a ScreenX scene began or ended, the change pulled me out of the action. It would be easier to feel immersed in the movie if there were peripheral visuals throughout the film, or if the transitions in and out of the ScreenX scenes were less jarring.
As the popularity of the format grows, the ScreenX team is optimistic that Hollywood will find ways to make the most of it. Choi Byung-hwan, ScreenX executive VP, told Variety last year, “We really hope that as the format becomes better known that filmmakers will appreciate the possibilities and increasingly shoot original material at the time of principal photography.”
While the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise offers glimpses of ScreenX’s potential, it left me wanting more than an occasional extra-wide scene. ScreenX tickets at CGV Cinemas are $18.50, plus a $1.50 booking fee. I’d say right now it’s worth shelling out the extra bucks if you’re interested in where the movie theater experience is headed, or if you’re a huge Pirates fan. If you want panoramic ocean views that last longer than a minute or two, you’re better off going to the beach. For now.