Slash Film has a good primer on understanding the difference between IMAX (i.e., the giant screens that run 70mm prints and are mostly found in museums and planetariums) and “Digital IMAX” (i.e., the “IMAX” theaters you tend to find in multiplexes, a/k/a “Lie”MAX). Essentially, IMAX decided it needed to get into the feature film game to survive, but building planetarium-sized screens in multiplexes (where people go to see feature films) was unrealistic. In order to provide the IMAX experience, then, they picked a larger auditorium in a multiplex, ripped out the first few rows of seats, put a marginally larger screen in place and moved it closer to the stadium seating, and souped up the sound system.
In theory, moving the screen closer creates an IMAX-like experience. It’s certainly more immersive, though it’s nowhere near the same thing as IMAX. This brand confusion is problematic — as James Hyder, the editor of LF Examiner told me a couple years ago when I reported this out for the Washington Times, “nobody would have had a problem with Imax doing this if they promoted it with the ‘Imax Multiplex Experience’ or some branding that made it clear that it wasn’t the same as the huge giant screens.”
Personally, I find it more irritating that theaters are trying to charge a premium for LieMAX (for instance, the AMC Georgetown is charging $16.50 for a 7:15 showing of MI:4 in LieMAX and only $12 for a “regular” screening). I understand that these systems are expensive to install — but I don’t see what the value-added is for me, the consumer. I have a similar complaint with 3D. I know that Hollywood thinks the third dimension is some sort of savior, but I just find it irritating. Jeffrey Katzenberg’s eye was on the prize when he was evangelizing the product during the roll out of Monsters vs. Aliens, however…and the prize isn’t “make amazing movies” but “make amazing amounts of money.” Whereas theaters have trouble raising ticket prices for normal showings, people have proven that they’re willing to shell out an extra $3 to $5. (That is to say, they were until they got tired of being peddled crappy, poorly produced movies with “fake” 3D conversions.)
Bottom line: If you’re going to see an IMAX film this holiday weekend, try to find an actual IMAX theater. And, if you’re given the choice between seeing a film in the multiplex on a regular screen or paying an extra couple of bucks per ticket for a LieMAX screen? Save yourself the cash.