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Imax shares maxing out

'Matrix' to go day and date on big screens

TORONTO — Shares of giant screen exhib Imax soared Wednesday as Warner announced the release of special, super-sized versions of Joel Silver’s second and third editions of the “Matrix” franchise on Imax theaters this spring and fall.

Breaking new ground, the third film (“The Matrix Revolutions”) will unspool day and date with the bow of its regular theatrical version Nov. 5. This is the first time that a Hollywood live action event film is released concurrently in 35mm and Imax’s special 15/70 format.

“It’s really a seminal event for us,” Imax co-chairman and co-CEO Brad Wechsler told Daily Variety. “The validation of the strategy that we’ve been talking about for a long time.”

Imax shares leaped 13% on the news, closing the day up 64¢ at $6.70 on the Nasdaq.

Original 35mm film footage is converted to Imax’s 15/70 format using a proprietary Imax technology called DMR (Digital Re-mastering). The conversion cost is a relatively modest $2 million to $3 million per film, though officials at Imax declined to disclose who is paying in the “Matrix” case.

The Imax version of part two of the trilogy, “The Matrix Reloaded,” is set to open a few weeks after the film’s 35 mm bow on May 15.

‘Good organic fit’

“Every movie has its own DNA,” said Greg Foster, Imax’s prexy of filmed entertainment, “and the ‘Matrix’ franchise is just a very good organic fit for what we do.”

The company produced a test on some Matrix footage to show it to the folks at WB with the hope of getting a day and date release for “The Matrix Revolutions,” said Foster, and the test turned out so well that “The Matrix Reloaded” was included in the deal, although the run-up was too short for a simultaneous release.

Wechsler said Imax’s market research indicates that there is moviegoer demand for day and date releases of Hollywood event films in Imax, and people are willing to pay the $3 to $4 ticket price premium for the experience.

“We look forward to the day that we can release four or five day and date films,” he added, noting that the company would like to see six day and date Hollywood films on the Imax commercial theater slate by 2005. “That would be a good, aggressive go.”

There are 240 Imax theaters worldwide.

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