While the home theater has made massive advances over the last several years, the same cannot be said of the movie theater. Sure, we've seen some impressive new gains in IMAX technology, but that technology has been around for decades. Much of what's been seen new in theaters is just refinements of earlier technology, but now, South Korea's movie theaters may be poised to step the game up substantially by bringing in ScreenX technology, a system that allows movies to be shown using three screens arrayed in a 270-degree perspective.
ScreenX, developed by theater operator CJ CGV, allows a kind of panoramic experience to be put into play by arranging three screens together to form a 270-degree perspective, making for a kind of ultra-widescreen approach that's likely going to force filmmakers to reconsider how movies are shot. The first film show for the ScreenX system is “The X,” a spy thriller short with a runtime of about 30 minutes, from Kim Jee-Woon, who actually directed the recent Arnold Schwarzenegger release of “The Last Stand.”
Shooting in ScreenX is actually pretty complex, at last report, requiring three cameras shooting in unison and in different directions, forcing placement decisions about both crew and equipment to be made with much more care lest someone accidentally get in a shot. Jee-Woon himself described the experience as “like hell and a nightmare,” and given reports that lights had to be put on overhead cranes and crew had to line up behind the camera, it's not at all surprising that it would be called this. ScreenX can now be found in 22 different theaters throughout South Korea, at last report.
While there's no denying that the presentation of ScreenX is impressive by most any standard, trying to get ScreenX to take off outside of South Korea is likely going to be a tall order. The ScreenX system does a great job with adding peripheral details and little side extras, as well as throwing in a note of immersion to the whole thing, great for things like walking down hallways. But this may not be enough to get outside interest going.
One, the process of adding ScreenX capability to a theater requires—at least in South Korea—about 150 million to 200 million won. That's around $141,150 to $188,400 U.S., and that's per theater. Essentially, a 10-screen multiplex would need around $1.42 million to fully set the whole thing up. Assuming the theaters were interested, next there would be the matter of the filmmakers. If Kim Jee-Woon is already describing the process of shooting in ScreenX in terms better reserved for eternal punishment, why would anyone else follow suit? Finally, there's the issue of home video sales. The home theater, as noted previously, is really taking off thanks to the variety of options for delivering video on this front. If it's going to be difficult to get theaters to shell out the kind of cash necessary to show moves in ScreenX, imagine the nigh-impossibility of doing likewise for home video. If the home video market is lost, so is a large swath of film revenue.
ScreenX may be just the experience the movie theater needs to shore up its future in the face of an increasingly worthwhile home theater experience, but it remains to be seen if theaters will be sufficiently willing to take this step.
Edited by Alisen Downey