ScreenX is a new movie format that projects on the side walls of the theater to extend the screen. Currently, Los Angeles’s ScreenX theater is showing the Korean film The Battleship Island, so I checked it out both as a fan of Asian films and interested in the format. ScreenX works. It’s like a horizontal IMAX.
Like Hollywood feature films shot in IMAX, only select portions of the film extend into the left and right side. Remember in The Dark Knight when the Joker blew up the Gotham City hospital, and the screen expanded up and down so the fire overtook you? Well, ScreenX doesn’t tower over you, but rather extends to the walls of the theater to envelop you.
The Battleship Island is a harrowing World War II story about Hashima, a Japanese prison camp for Koreans. The opening of the film lowers us into the mines with them, and we are surrounded by descending rock walls on either side. It immerses you in the ocean, surrounding you with water everywhere you look, just as if you were stranded in the real ocean. When the film dips underwater, you can’t look away for relief from drowning. The film’s climactic escape surrounds you with action too.
The ScreenX extensions are used strategically so you don’t get used to it or take it for granted. So interior dialogue scenes won’t have you looking around the room. Once the caves are established, they don’t need to project the full caves every time, only when there’s a collapse and the disaster needs to feel overwhelming, like there’s no escape anywhere you turn.
I was thinking a party scene could have worked with ScreenX. Even though it’s exposition, you could look around and see background players “enjoying” the party. Rather than make it a gimmick in a scene like that, ScreenX later expands a big meeting of the mine workers plotting their rebellion. That’s when ScreenX kicks in and you’re right in the middle of that do or die moment, and can see how many desperate souls are hoping for salvation. It’s more than one single screen can convey.
You’ll want to sit near the rear so you can take in the entire periphery, although I don’t think you’re supposed to look directly at the sides. There can be some blur when action crosses from the center into the sides, which suggests to me an accurate depiction of peripheral vision, not a virtual reality with a clear view no matter where you look. Although, other side scenes were perfectly clear. The side projection also allows the film to play additional visuals during the end credits.
Proponents of 3D talk about immersing the viewer in the film. I never bought that because I can still see the edges of the screen and the rest of the theater. You’re not tricking me into believing I’m in the movie. ScreenX feels like more of an immersion, because, like IMAX, it’s about filling more of your field of vision. It’s kinder on the eyes than 3D since there are no glasses.
On the side walls you can see the lines of the wall. They’re still walls, not a screen, but the picture seems just as vivid as the center screen. The tech nerd in me got a kick out of watching the side projectors on each end turn on and off with the ScreenX portions. It takes six projectors on each side to make the walls light up to match the screen. It does illuminate the entire theater when three screens are on instead of just one. As someone who takes notes in movies, I appreciate that, but the walls go totally dark when it’s not a ScreenX moment.
I missed Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales in ScerenX but I’m told there will be more Hollywood movies that utilize the ScreenX format so I am game to try them out. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is set to be released in ScreenX worldwide. Learn more about ScreenX including theater locations at their official site.