Thankfully, Movietickets.com and Fandango have a bit more information now than they did in the past. 35mm or digital? Stadium seating? The listings are now starting to identify stuff like this. But other than those few clues, you don't know what room you'll be in and you don't know how it's going to turn out. Unless, of course, your local multiplex has an IMAX screen and you're willing to pony up a few extra dollars to make sure you're seeing it in the best way possible. IMAX ensured a superior experience that was worth the surcharge.
But as IMAX became widely known as the superior theatrical experience, the company lowered its standards and began to lend its well-established brand name to any theater with a fairly big screen and the ability to bring its screen, seating, sound system and projection booth up to IMAX specifications - and most importantly, enough money to pay for the license to use the prestigiuos IMAX brand name. Many filmgoers caught on. It's pretty well-known in New York City that the only true IMAX screen here is at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, and recently retrofitted screens at the AMC Loews 34th Street 14 and the AMC Empire 25 are often (and justly) referred to as faux IMAX. They're simply not up to snuff.
But not everyone caught on. The aforementioned Empire and 34th Street IMAX screens are packed in the weekends, with plenty of movie enthusiasts happy to pay extra for a better audio/visual experience. This probably led to AMC thinking We can do that ourselves! So in 2009, AMC launched ETX, which now can be found at 14 of its theaters. One of them being the AMC Empire 25 in Times Square, where they charge $17 - a surcharge of $4 per regular ticket. Erica and I went to check it out recently to view Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 3D. Here's our take.
Let's start with what AMC promises with their ETX - Enhanced Theatrical Experience.
- Wall to Wall 20% Bigger Screen
- Breathtaking Sound
- Digital Projection
I'll start with that - the breathtaking sound. I don't know what kind of sound system the Empire's ETX auditorium is equipped with, and even if I did, it would mean nothing to me. While there are few things worse than seeing a film with a broken sound system, I'm generally not one to complain about sound at the movies. It's usually fine, and I'm also not one of those people who needs to feel the walls shake and the floor vibrate when there's an explosion. I'm there to watch a movie, not to get a cheap foot massage, and frankly I find it to be more of a distraction than anything else. There are no specifics about the 'breathtaking' sound on the AMC website, but a press release mentioned that ETX-equipped theaters have 'twice as many audio channels compared to typical auditoriums.' Other promotional materials have mentioned '11,000 watts.' For an auditorium of this size, 11,000 is not a remarkable number.
As for Digital Projection, is that really something special at the movies today? AMC has been very vigilant in their transition from 35mm to digital. I checked the movie listings for most of the AMC theaters in the New York City area, and had to go all the way to the AMC Loews Fresh Meadows in Fresh Meadows, NY, to find an AMC multiplex that wasn't all-digital. Which could just be an error on the site, for all I know.
The film we went to see was in 3D. I was hoping that the Enhanced Theatrical Experience would mean that it was projected a bit brighter than usual to overcompensate for the fact that we're essentially wearing sunglasses. Sadly, the 3D darkness in AMC's ETX was no different than I've experienced in other rooms, although Pirates of the Caribbean is a pretty dark film to begin with. Overall, the digital presentation was fine, but nothing to write home about and no better or worse than I've seen on the 24 other screens at the Empire.
Finally, we get to the screen size. It's supposed to be 20% bigger. Bigger than what? The average screen? If that's the case, 20% is a really insignificant number, as I can't imagine the average movie theater screen to be that big. I have seen films in Theater 6 before the ETX conversion and after, and I didn't notice a difference. This is one of the bigger auditoriums at the Empire, but I'm pretty sure that there are a few other screens there - aside from the IMAX screen - that are just as big.
Another complaint I must note is that the top right corner of the 20% bigger screen has an embarrassing obstruction. I don't know exactly what it is, but it looks like part of the movie screen is folded over. It's one of those things that you don't always notice right off the bat, but when you do, it's really distracting. I've encountered this at a handful of movie theaters - and it's pretty bad on one of the other screens at the Empire - but to see this on a premium screen is not acceptable.
Other than that, the screen is fine, and so is the seating. Personally, I'd rather sit in Theater 7, equipped with all-leather seats (and no premium). But I shouldn't complain. The AMC Empire has excellent, very comfortable seats in all 25 auditoriums, many of them with stadium seating.
In summary, ETX is not worth the surcharge. When it comes down to it, ETX is a knock-off. It isn't even to faux IMAX what faux IMAX is to IMAX. My advice: Unless you're going to see a movie that you've really been looking forward to and you want to make sure that you see it on a good screen and you don't mind paying more, avoid it.
Coming soon: We'll cross the street to the Regal E-Walk to try out the Regal Premium Experience. It'll probably be a copy/paste job.