Faced with greater competition, movie theaters have tried multiple experiments to upgrade the cinematic experience, including bigger and brighter screens and rumbling seats. But a major challenge for exhibitors is to make the experience more enticing without resorting to gimmickry.
One local theater, Regal L.A. Live, is experimenting with an idea that executives say strikes the right balance between so-called enhancement and sensory overload.
The downtown Los Angeles multiplex plans to introduce immersive multi-screen cinema technology in one of its auditoriums this fall, thanks to a deal between L.A. Live developer AEG and French theater circuit CGR Cinemas. Financial details were not disclosed.
The revamped 190-seat Regal auditorium will feature a traditional screen at the front, like any other theater. But the audience will also be flanked by five LED screens on each side that will flood moviegoers’ peripheral vision with lights and colors based on what’s playing on the main screen.
For example, if you’re watching a scene that takes place in the African desert, the LED panels might shower the audience with ambient hues of sky-blue, sun-like yellow and billowing tan sand. But crucially, viewers won’t have to turn their necks to catch any additional onscreen action.
“When you’re watching the movie, you actually feel very immersed into the film,” said Shelby Russell, a senior vice president at L.A. Live. “It enhances the mood of each of the scenes.”
La Rochelle-based CGR launched the concept known as ICE (Immersive Cinema Experience) in France about 2½ years ago, the company said. The initiative was successful, and ICE Immersive accounted for 75% of CGR’s box office revenue in 2018, according to the firm. Thirty-two of CGR’s 680 auditoriums are now ICE theaters.
Regal L.A. Live will be the first U.S. theater to employ the technology. If it works, CGR hopes to expand to other American cineplexes. Executives did not say how much tickets will cost, but like other premium formats such as Imax and RealD, they will be more expensive than standard admissions.
Other companies have tried to innovate the theatrical experience as theaters face growing threats from popular TV shows, streaming and video games.
Results have been mixed, though. 4DX, which uses seat movements, water and scent effects, operates in more than 620 theaters around the world, according to the technology’s South Korean developer CJ Group. On the other hand, Barco Escape, a once promising idea for a three-screen theatrical design, failed to catch on. Belgium-based Barco closed its Barco Escape unit last year.
Jocelyn Bouyssy, managing director of CGR Cinemas and Ice Theaters, said the success of ICE theaters in France, where it competes with Imax, bodes well for its U.S. expansion. Movies such as “Spider-Man: Far From Home” have drawn big crowds to the format, he said.
“The problem with other formats is that they distract the moviegoer from the film,” Bouyssy said through a translator. "[ICE] appeals to a very large audience.”