Schlimmbesserung


The new IMAX is schlimmbesserung that makes you want to backpfeifengesicht.
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Reported on 14th of March, 2014

It would be so much easier to tell this story in chronological order. But here’s the problem. I just upgraded to Mavericks. It does not offer direct sync of your contacts and calendar with your computer. You have to put it on their computers for all the world to see. Now obviously the NSA and the ad makers of the world want to know what I’m doing (eating cake) and who I’m calling (places to see if they’re open to sell me cake), but the reality is very simple. The UK, being the most populous country in Europe, doesn’t have cell phone coverage. This means if I have something to put on my phone, I will have to wait to get to a wifi spot, which, being that there is no cell phone service, is not in high demand. It has something to do with trying not to make money. This means that my super advanced iPhone and MacBook can no longer do what my iBook and Treo 650 could do ten years ago.

But it comes in different colors!

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This is the classic example of what Germans call Schlimmbesserung, a word almost, almost, as good as backpfeifengesicht. Schlimmbesserung means a ‘worser bettering’, and certainly the history of Apple has been strewn with it. As things progress, they are made worse and worse, more so by the demands of trying to make money off of idiots like myself. In the case of film, it has been the introduction of digital projection that matters so much. And so the story begins one month ago, only to end fifteen years before that:

Fifteen Years Earlier (never do this!)

Having recently discovered RiffTrax (one month ago), I also had the opportunity of seeing Episode 1 (fifteen years ago) again without having to actually see it. It is much worse than I remember. In fact, what it brought back was memories of memories, namely the overwhelming sense of disappointment everyone felt when they saw it, in proportion to how much good will there was for Mr. Lucas, which has now evaporated. It’s a staggeringly inept story, a gimmick line (I am your father!) turned into seven hours of political theater that would turn Mark Russell songless. It is genuinely one of the worst 40 films of all time, a list I will make when I want to get on the list of 10 most annoying web tropes of all time.

Hey, if you broke the second law of thermodynamics, you'd want to keep it a secret. Also, if you were lying. You'd want to keep that a secret too.

Here’s what Mr. George Lucas also gave us, besides our crushed dreams, and an ironic way for Mr. Simon Pegg to turn into an asshole (last year) – the conversion of theaters, now nearly complete, into digital. Now Mr. Lucas did what I do when I don’t want to work on the hard parts of writing, like story, structure and character; he fiddled with the font. And picked the worst one, like Geneva, but with no sense of irony like the 1990s Chicago foundries. In this case, the sans serif in question was DLP – digital projection – that you now see in every theater practically in the world.

Why does this matter so much? Well the projection is probably the most crucial part of our garbage in/garbage in scenario. Another thing I should have done is visual examples in an article about, well, visuals. So imagine this in our last article, which I could not go back and fix, as it is written in stone…server farms. Stone™ Server Farms, the best server farms around!

It’s actually garbage in, garbage in, garbage in, garbage out, as there are three stages to the process. So imagine, because it’s true, that a film has to be filmed, processed and projected. For the sake of confusion (you heard me), we’re going to use mario pipes to symbolize the various sizes of images. After toying with 1920s slide projectors, inverted telescopes and 1984 Macintosh SE’s, this is the visual metaphor with which I will baffle and amaze. Not in that order.

So: IMAX 15 perf is the biggest pipe, allowing the biggest amount of information. They’re not pixels, so let’s call them pixels anyway, just in case any film nerds are watching. They need something to be mad at, preferably something that they cannot do anything about. In this case, me.

Let’s say this was Fires of Kuwait (23 years ago), which was shot on IMAX,

ImaxCameraBlue

processed on IMAX,

IMAXProcessingBlue

then shown in IMAX.

IMAXProjectorBlue

When we stack them, like in the case of Fires of Kuwait, what comes in goes out, so it’s actually pretty nice:

Kuwait

Now film doesn’t come in megapixels. Unlike a digital camera, it’s not grid where you just count the sensors and multiply them; film is chemical blobs on celluloid. You add in that there are three different kinds of blobs (red, green and blue, technically all film is black and white, they just make one pass chemically sensitive to blue, one to red, and so on, and they the film mushes them together). I could even add how different film stocks have higher density, especially at different ISO/ASA ratings, and how you can change this through pushing and pulling the processing.

But I’m just going to skip that and lie. IMAX has 1575 megapixels.

How did I come up with that number? Because the internet has a lot of megapixel counts out there, and I’m just using the highest one. Thing of it is, the lowest one, quoting by the opposite counterpart proponents of digital (250 megapixels) is still pretty impressive. There are many reasons film actually is better than digital, but that’s for the next article. This one is purely about numbers, and IMAX has more so it wins. Even the people who think it loses say so.

So IMAX is big, and people like paying more, so some guy thought it would be cool to blow up Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (ten years ago), which is fine by me.

AzkaImageToPipes35

Yes it’s confusing, but pipes were better than daisy-chained screen doors, which is another option. Get it? Just because you have a big pipe at the bottom doesn’t mean you get more water. It’s not so much the weakest link as it is the smallest. Like the narrowest part of the hose, weakest link in the chain, or slowest guy in traffic, who just should get the fuck out of my way OR BE SKINNED ALIVE SO HELP ME I’LL GET OUT OF THIS CAR!!!!!, the image is only as good as its lowest version. Push a pixelcam through a human eye to see what the last thing a dead guy saw, and it’s still a pixelcam.

35mm blowups were still pretty good; look closely, and you’ll see that Mr. Gary Oldman’s eyes are slightly pixelated, but it’s hard to tell. This fun would last about two or three years, until Mr. George Lucas’ writer’s block, or writer’s Buick, or writer’s slab, or whatever it was that could be large enough to cause the film industry to finally adapt 4K and DLP, cameras and projection respectively. Both of these are way worse than IMAX, and significantly (‘way’ is way greater than ‘significantly’, though not significantly) worse than 35mm, which has, as of this writing, utterly disappeared.

Crossout35

This happened (last month). In the meantime (six years earlier), more and more films were shot on 4K and projected on 4K, and as I’m sure you know, 4K is way worse than 4K. Yep. Here’s where it gets even weirder.

Even though the cameras and projectors use the same format, the projection part, which should be the best part, is actually the worst. The sensors of the camera are around 12-16 MP, but the camera then downconverts it in camera to 4K, which is a kind of video with a resolution of about 6MP. This is the format, and it really can’t be changed, anymore than you can thread IMAX through a 35mm projector. This video format (4K) is then projected in 2K (around 4MP, this is the format of most theaters in England, really most digital theaters in the world). Resolutionally speaking, it’s about the same as your iPhone 3G, but actually not as good as the iPhone 4. Really.

RedEyeCamera

DLPProcess

You don’t have to understand what I’m talking about, just look at the pipe! It’s tiny! Even the toughest Piranha Plant couldn’t get out of there, even on a Gameboy! And so from 2006 on, whenever you’d see a film in an IMAX theater, you’d get this.

MoSCompare

Here’s the funny part, and why this story can’t be told chronologically, even though I just did. Mr. Christopher Nolan, for all his faults decided to shoot 30 minutes of The Dark Knight (six years ago) in IMAX. So, for a glorious 30 minutes it was back to this.

ImageToPipesBatman

Then it goes back, again: Mr. Brad Bird does the same with the unfortunately titled Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (three years ago), and that would have distracted from the fact that I had scene everything in the trailer before I bought my trailer canceling headphones (one year ago), except for the fact that now IMAX, in its infinite wisdom, has adopted its own digital projector. They must be pretty good. It has 12,000 × 8,700 pixels. That’s 104MP! They’ve done it!

Let’s break that down, shall we? It would be expensive to actually invent a new technology, something that IMAX just doesn’t do anymore. More so because it would involve a different format of video, which is another form of technology. They solved this problem very cleverly. By marketing it.

Buying two 2K projectors from Texas Instruments, slapping the IMAX logo on them, and turning 2 megapixels into 104 megapixels. How? With proprietary technology, of course! Hey, if you broke the second law of thermodynamics, you’d want to keep it a secret. Also, if you were lying. You’d want to keep that a secret too.

I have no doubt they have ways to improve the image through active processing, in the same way that blurring an image can make pixelation seem more pleasant even though it doesn’t add any more information. But even from their own claims we have a problem. They claim that two projectors can turn a 2MP image into 24MP. Sure why not? But explain to me how taking two identical 24MP images, and projecting them at the same time over each other turns them into a 104MP?

It’s proprietary, that’s how!

The end of all this is that Mr. Christopher Nolan made a point of allowing the first trailer of The Dark Knight Returns to be shown only in IMAX theaters, which meant the trailer of the film was good IMAX:

ImageToPipesBatman

Do you have any idea how much time I wasted making this confusing bit of artwork? It’s the same costume, so it’s the same film. Deal with it.

And the feature was bad digital IMAX.

ImageToPipesMI4

Here’s the even worse part. As part of the world’s longest letter to the ACA (this is the advertising standards agency in Britain, and it’s weirdly powerful), I decided to see Robocop (okay, that was the worst part. Now we’re done) at the retro-fitted Cineworld Crawley. Robocop was shot on a 4K camera and looks very digital. From a pixel point of view the IMAX screen is essentially identical to any other screen in Britain, but honestly it did look better. I know this because I got to see the trailer for 300:Who On Earth Thinks This Guy Is Butch I Mean The Fact That He Even Brought The Word ‘Butch’ Into My Head Should Tell You Something, which I had also seen in another theater. Here, the image was significantly brighter, and with the extra brightness you got to see a lot of the detail. It couldn’t make Robocop more tolerable because it’s not magic juice, but I might pay the extra £4 to see films in IMAX every time.

That’s fantastic, except the reason I’d do this is because the DLP projectors in regular cinemas are dimmer than old film projectors. So IMAX is now selling a worse experience than what we had ten years ago for a bit more money. It just so happens that it’s better than what you can get at a regular cinema. This leads me to do two things. 1) Pay for it gladly, and 2) File a complaint with the ACA which will get me banned from every IMAX theater like the guy on the bad check list.

The real lesson here isn’t so much Schlimmbesserung as it is SchlimmbesserungSchlimmSchlimmbesserungbesserungSchlimmSchlimm.
Which is where we stand today. The best you’re going to get is paying extra for something worse than what you could have had normally ten years ago. But it’s even more Schlimm than you think, for it’s not just about resolution. As you will see in part 4.

Thoughts on Mommy, What's IMAX?, part. 3.

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  1. Huzefa says:

    Hey, cant find part 4 what is it titled as ! ?

    1. Scott Scott says:

      Hello, and welcome to the extremely small ISA family! Um, yeah, like many things, I wrote part 4 (and even most of part 5), and it’s pretty much done, but then I forgot about it. Let me draw a couple pictures and I’ll put it up in a few days. Also, you would think I’d be able to link part 1 with part 2 and so forth. I still hate 3D and Digital, so the impetus is there. That’s all I need.

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