Previously on AndersonVision…
Last November, I delivered some critical words on ScreenX, the premium theatrical format that boasts a 270-degree, wall-enveloping screen. In case you missed it, my experience of seeing Bohemian Rhapsody undermined the visual scope of the filmmakers’ intentions by compressing the aspect ratio for “added” detail that amounted to stretched-out, recycled imagery. Worse, Bohemian recently collected Oscars for Sound and Sound Editing—achievements that would be unnoticed by that screening’s muffled, uneventful sound.
With fairness to ScreenX creator CGV, I was impressed with their other premium technology, 4DX, last month at their Hollywood lab. That screening of Alita: Battle Angel was a 180 from ScreenX: crisp, loud, and hyperreal.
In November, ScreenX did not make me feel the sensation of accompanying Queen and Freddie Mercury on their career. For Round 2 at Los Angeles’ CGV Cinemas, they’ve opened Captain Marvel. If you are reading this article, you absolutely know about. It’s Marvel. It’s their first female-led film. Brie Larson plays the fan-favorite title character. Samuel L. Jackson was kidnapped from the set of Kiss of Death and brought into 2019 to play a younger Nick Fury. It’s so big, they gave the cat its own character poster.
Captain Marvel in ScreenX
Captain Marvel had the royal treatment for its production. Like many of Marvel’s last few films, it has a 2.39:1 aspect ratio, with select scenes filmed in IMAX at a 1.90:1 aspect ratio. It carries a twelve-track digital sound mix. Most striking is that Captain Marvel was filmed in an 8K resolution. A couple of years ago, James Gunn used the new RED Weapon 8K camera to film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a state-of-the-art decision that resulted in the most visually arresting film Marvel has ever produced.
Have things changed? Mildly. The presentation had slightly more punch on this return visit. I noticed a sharper main image and improved sound, but after tonight, it’s clear that this is not the best avenue for moviegoing. The irony of the divide between ScreenX and 4DX is that the latter would be likelier to dispense sensory overload. Because of the distracting, arbitrary nature of the side projection, however, ScreenX is harder to bear. The wraparound effect is intermittent, sometimes popping up in the middle of an action sequence and cutting short before the end of the scene.
When it does appear, the extra 90 degrees have the same ugly, blurry sheen as before, the aspect ratio matted for an illusionary effect. The main screen is adequate. The sides are an accordion made out of a Fruit Roll-Up. Heads are squished, “added detail” is elongated beyond comprehension, and the green fire exit signs illuminate through the screens.
There are more formats offered in today’s landscape of the film industry than ever before. On a stateside basis, there is no need or allure for ScreenX. Not once did I feel lived into the world of the film. I can’t call it a matter of brand preference either. As ticket prices rise, so does the demand for more in-film immersion, as do the box office receipts. When it’s only a few bucks more to get the fully-loaded experience, it’s no wonder that crowds for tentpole releases are springing for big-league names like IMAX. To go big doesn’t necessitate making things complicated—that’s where ScreenX stands against the American competition.
Ask not what the critics say, however. The theatrical experience is critical to enjoyment. In the past two decades, cinema has seen a boom in globalization. What doesn’t work here will do gangbusters in markets like Russia, China, and South Korea, where ScreenX first debuted.
Speaking to an anonymous source with knowledge of ScreenX, I learned that it has hit pay dirt in its home country. The 2016 horror film Train to Busan was a hit in the format. Bigger was the K-pop concert film BTS World Tour: Love Yourself in Seoul, a massive hit in the east that got a two-week limited engagement in ten American ScreenX theaters. The conceit, I understand, is that a concert film is better tailored to the technology.
“I think it has a place… but it may not be for [everyone],” the source said.
My audience seemed to love it. Asked about how they felt seeing Captain Marvel in ScreenX, I overheard these responses after the film:
It feels like you’re actually there… it’s worth the price of admission!
Have a heart. See it in ScreenX!
It’s so real, I felt like I was in space. I had trouble breathing!
CGV plans to roll out more ScreenX theaters in the United States. Regal Cinemas has installed the technology at locations in New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco. While there is confidence in the brand, the nascent ScreenX will likely not find appeal to audiences outside of major markets. For that suburban footprint, the elaborate dazzle of 4DX has a better, more justified chance of invading multiplexes in need of their own IMAX.
But Mike, what did you think of Captain Marvel?
Considering that hundreds of other reviews have made my opinion less burning, I’ll keep it short. Marvel is coming off one triumph after the other for their last few films. Captain Marvel does not quite fit in with those likes. While the screenplay is smart to forego a detailed origin story, it suffers as a mess in execution, hobbled by feeble tonal shifts and poorly staged direction. At its best, there’s a Buckaroo Banzai vibe to the idea of humans confused at the site of warring aliens in Los Angeles, but it barely reaches that film’s infamously charming eccentricities, nor does it live up to the 80’s and 90’s action films its heart bleeds for.
Brie Larson’s performance deserves a better film. So does Samuel L. Jackson, who gets more to do here as Nick Fury than the eight other films the character appears in—this is the vintage, pre-meme Sam Jackson we fell in love with in Pulp Fiction and The Long Kiss Goodnight. Ultimately, the film serves only to drum up the inescapable anticipation for Avengers: Endgame.
DC broke the glass ceiling in style with the terrific Wonder Woman. All Captain Marvel does is pass through the hole it left.