Should you see “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” this weekend at any other theater complex in the central San Joaquin Valley other than the Sierra Vista Cinemas 16, you’ll only be seeing one-third of the movie shot by director Wes Ball.
The movie theater at Sierra Vista Mall is the first to install the new Barco Escape three-screen, ultra-wide experience projection system. Unlike the traditional screenings, the new technology offers additional images to each side of the screen.
The technology – much like the panoramic Cinerama film style introduced in the 1950s – uses two additional projectors, working with the third that’s already in the theater, to show synchronized images on three screens. The combined images for the three projectors cover the entire 90-feet of the three screens.
“The idea is to get people going back to the movies instead of watching on their pads and phones. This system is designed to make going to the movies an experience again,” says Logan Parton, a field sales engineer for Belgium-based Barco Escape.
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That idea is similar to why Cinerama was introduced. Television viewing was showing a massive amount of growth in the middle of the 20th Century. The panoramic screen was an exact opposite to the tiny TV screens that were keeping families home.
The new wide-screen technology projects images across 90 feet on three screens.
Luring people back to the theater isn’t cheap. Exhibitors pay a down payment of $100,000. Todd Hoddick, Barco chief executive officer, points out that is less than the cost for the projectors, two new screens and technology to operate the system, but it is a way to get into a working relationship. There will be a $10,000 charge per film paid by the exhibitor after the system is in place.
Sierra Vista Cinemas general manager Doug Her looks at the new technology as another way to lure moviegoers in what’s become a competitive film market. Owners of all the local thaters have used huge screens as a way to attract moviegoers.
Regal Entertainment, which operates UA Broadway Faire Stadium 10, Regal Manchester 16, UA Clovis Movies 8 and Edwards Stadium 22, is the only local theater company with IMAX. It brought the large format to Fresno in 1999.
The recently opened Maya Cinemas Fresno 16 unveiled a new screen that is 76-feet wide and 39-feet tall in June.
The local triple screen will be one of two opening this weekend at theaters owned by the Santa Rosa Entertainment Group. The other is in Santa Rosa, where the company is headquartered.
Santa Rosa Entertainment Vice President Neil Pearlmutter says the company is always keeping an eye on new technologies and because the Barco Escape is so brand new, the company jumped at the chance to add the equipment.
“We liked the idea that this technology is not in a lot of theaters,” Pearlmutter says.
There are 20 theaters in the United States, Europe, China and Mexico with the triple-screen system. The original “Maze Runner,” released in 2014, was shot as a wide-screen project but there were only a few systems in place at that time.
The number of theaters with the new technology is only half the battle for Barco.
“It’s a little bit of a chicken and the egg situation,” Hoddick says. “Content is a really big thing. The product must still be driven by a good story. Then we will give them a compelling experience. But, we are also looking at Xtreme Sports, concerts and other product for the large format.”
Barco and 20th Century Fox have signed a five-year deal where the film studio will produce 10 wide-screen movies. Produce Jerry Bruckheimer also has an interest in making movies to fit the panoramic screens.
One of the early test runs with the system was a performance by Lady Gaga. Viewers said it really felt like they were in the audience.
To get the wide effect, two additional screens – 29 1/2-feet wide and 12 1/2-feet tall – have been suspended at an angle to the theater’s original screen of the same dimensions. At the end of each of the two new screens is mounted a DP 2K-20C projector that is the same as the one used to show movies from the projection booth at the back of the room. Barco Escape can be adapted to almost any theater. When there is no film available in the wide-screen format, the new screens are motorized so that they can be moved to be flat against the side walls of the theater.
Parton has been working with the local theater to find which of the theaters in the complex would be the best for the new screens. Because they are so big, it’s important to find a theater that allows almost 7-feet of space above the theater floor so that patrons won’t bump their heads when they enter the theater.
The 287-seat theater number seven was deemed best for the new technology.
“It took about nine days to get everything installed,” Parton says as he runs some test footage to see how well the three cameras are working together. Because all three screens are connected to one cable, the process of getting the movies in perfect synch is a lot easier than the days of Cinerama when projectionists had to start three film cameras at the exact same time.
The two new screens are made of a perforated material to allow sound from the speakers behind them to pass through.
The new format will come at an extra cost for the moviegoer: $3 will be added to the normal ticket price. This even includes Tuesdays when every seat is only $5, making it $8 to see the film in the wide-screen format.