Australian cinemas in Imax spat

Rival companies battle over small screen plans

SYDNEY — IMAX Sydney, one of the world’s most successful sites of the giant-screen format, is fuming that IMAX Corp. will open four cinemas Down Under carrying that name — even though all four will have normal-sized screens.

The four will be owned by the Canadian company in a joint venture with Hoyts.

“What annoys us is they’re using the same name,” says IMAX Sydney co-owner Peter Ivany.

“To suddenly have IMAX on a small screen really concerns me,” adds Sydney CEO Mark Bretherton. “If that’s their first IMAX experience, people will wonder what all the fuss is about. It’s a brand we’ve worked hard to build up and we don’t want to see it frittered away.”

However, the corporation’s co-chairman Richard Gelfond defends the move, saying, “The IMAX experience is not just about the size of the screen.

“There are a lot of elements that has to do with the image going to the peripheral vision, the angle you’re sitting, the sound, theater configuration, how we process software technology,” he says.

The joint venture with Hoyts will make use of new digital technology that enables cinemas to be refitted for A$500,000 ($500,000), digital film copies produced for less than $1,000 and circulated with much greater ease and cost efficiency than celluloid prints costing $20,000-$40,000.

IMAX Sydney charges $25 a ticket, and Hoyts will most likely charge about $5 less.

The cinemas at Hoyts Entertainment Quarter in Sydney, Highpoint in Melbourne and Carousel in Perth will open in time for the Dec. 11 release of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.” A fourth auditorium will also be installed within a Hoyts cinema in Melbourne in 2009.

The deal with Hoyts marks IMAX Corp.’s first international joint venture. A second in Japan was announced last week, and it follows a pending 100-cinema rollout with AMC Entertainment Stateside.

“Sydney is now one of the top five IMAX cities in the world,” says Bretherton. Box office for “U2 3D” movie was the highest of any single IMAX site worldwide and accounted for 25% of the total gross in Australia.

“The Dark Knight” has been a virtual sell-out at IMAX Sydney since it opened, and the pic is the fifth of a dozen blockbusters with IMAX elements in production or release this year.

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