Oz exhibs wary of Imax

H'w'd pix too long to be profitable to large screen exhibs

SYDNEY — The Imax version of “The Matrix Reloaded” has attracted sizable audiences in the U.S. and in key markets including London, Singapore and Tokyo. But the format switch is meeting resistance in Australia.

“We need films that we can show 13 or 14 times a day, not films that run for two or three hours and entail much higher rental terms,” says Peter Ivany, whose investment company manages and co-owns the Imax theaters in Sydney and Melbourne.

Ivany says he would accept reversioned Hollywood films if they were cut to between 40 minutes and 60 minutes and were available while the full-length versions screen in conventional cinemas.

Imax co-chairman Richard Gelfond is confident that hold-outs such as Ivany will be converted. “The skeptics are falling away because of the experiences we’ve had so far,” he says, citing “Matrix Reloaded’s” $65,000 opening-week B.O. at the BFI’s Imax screen in London and its $40,000-a-week grosses the following two weeks. Pic plays six times a day.

China, Imax’s fastest-growing market in terms of locations, has yet to see any of the remastered Hollywood films. Last month, the company announced a deal with Shanghai United Cinema Line Co. for two giant-screen theater systems in the exhib’s multiplexes. The pair will boost the number of Imax facilities in China to 10 by 2005.

There are 18 Imax theaters in Japan, three in India (with nine more planned), two in China, four in Oz and 11 in the rest of the Asia/Pacific region.

Key to the company’s growth strategy is the technology that enables Imax to convert an existing screen for $3 million, a much cheaper option than the $8 million tab of building from the ground up a few years ago.

After Ivany took control of the Imax theaters in Oz in 2001, he shuttered those in Adelaide and Brisbane, figuring those cities’ are not populous enough to make the cinemas viable, and he relaunched the brand.

The Sydney and Melbourne locations are trading very well, selling a combined 1 million tickets annually.