BFI IMAX Refurbishment Hits the Spot for Black Panther Wakanda Forever
Earlier this week, the BFI IMAX in London reopened its doors after a refurbishment with Black Panther Wakanda Forever the film that gives the new long-awaited IMAX laser projector its first run out.
The film was introduced at the mid-week preview by the BFI’s CEO Ben Roberts, who when hailing the arrival of both the new laser projector and the new 12-channel sound system was somewhat taken aback by the “whoop whoops” from the audience: as hinted at by his trendy leather jacket he’s seemingly not a tech nerd – don’t worry, Mr Roberts, we won’t hold it against you!
The BFI’s pièce de resistance is its huge screen which at 65 foot high is still the tallest in the land. To put that into perspective Roberts used the usual British descriptor of the screen being the height of five double-decker buses – so that’s not small. However, it’s worth pointing out that while that may be true of the screen it only applies when content is shown at that height too: that’s IMAX 1.43:1 full-frame content. Sadly, the new single laser projector that has been installed is not capable of doing so. At least the BFI has chosen to keep its IMAX 15/70mm projector which can fill that incredible screen, so when films that are available in that format appear – namely Christopher Nolan films, the BFI will be ideal.
As you walk into the theatre that giant screen is certainly the first thing you’ll, and then as you turn round you’ll notice new carpets and new seats, with holders for wine glasses. Sit down and you’ll find the seats are more comfortable than the old ones, with good back support, which is welcome, especially for longer films. There’s no reclining however in any of the seats – and while I found leg room to be fine, those with generous vertical proportions may wish for more space. At least the rake in the screen is very good, so you don’t have to worry about anyone tall blocking your view.
Once seated I could see the speakers behind the screen from the new 12-channel sound system – three behind the screen and a height channel. There are also speakers all down the sides and many above on the ceiling.
So how did it all look and sound? I’d say it was first-rate. I was placed closer to the front than I would have liked which meant I was looking up, which is never my preference, but I could find no fault with the image quality. Perhaps a dual laser would have been even brighter, but it looked noticeably brighter to me than my last visit. Colors were strong, black levels were fine, and in darker scenes, there was still good shadow detail – and I think the vibrancy of Black Panther Wakanda Forever was a good showcase for the system.
The sound was very impressive too. As I was placed to the right of center the right channel dominated but pans over to the left gave good dimensionality and I did hear content in the height channels. IMAX doesn’t offer point-directional sound in the same way as Dolby Atmos, but there’s no questioning the power and effectiveness. I’ve heard even deeper bass in that screen with the older system, so I would put it down to the sound design of the movie rather than the system itself.
Ultimately, as Roberts pointed out, rather than tech specs it was the cultural significance of the reopening that was important. He explained why a not-for-profit charity such as the BFI chooses to show mainstream content such as Marvel films. “We believe in screen culture for everybody,” reflecting how the opening weekend of films, such as Spider-Man was a joyous experience. There was certainly a celebratory joy here too. The evening was put on in partnership with We Are Parable, an organisation that provides opportunities to experience Black Cinema in culturally relevant, memorable and unique ways, making a film such as Black Panther a showpiece statement of that mission. The film both mourns and celebrates the legacy of Chadwick Boseman, and you’d struggle to keep a dry eye in the opening and closing segments.
Overall though, the lack of digital 1.43:1 aside, the BFI IMAX’s refurbishment is a success and I imagine that a visit in the new future for Avatar: The Way of Water, will very much be on the cards.