So, you want to see Marvel’s next buzzworthy action spectacle, Captain Marvel, but when you look at the listings, it’s a labyrinth of versions. The standard 2D version or perhaps the Real D 3D version? Or how about IMAX? But there are 2D and 3D versions of that too. Then there’s Dolby, RPX, D-Box or 4DX. One of the latest movie experiences to add to the ever-exhausting list is ScreenX, the version in which I saw Marvel Studios’ 21st(!) entry. Full disclosure, the folks at ScreenX were kind enough to shoot me a ticket to give it a look, but this is in no way a sponsored review.
In New York City there are currently two ScreenX theaters, with the one I visited being at the Regal in Union Square. If you’re unfamiliar with what ScreenX is, it’s a theater that adds two additional projectors, one on either side of the room, creating a 270-degree viewing angle of the film you’re experiencing. Upon entering the theater and finding my assigned seat, I initially thought I wasn’t in the right place, with the interior looking very much like a normal, smaller auditorium — the kind that multiplexes typically reserve for movies in their fourth or fifth week.
It has stadium seating, but it was noticeably grungy compared to the luxurious seating in a Dolby auditorium. Aside from the seating, which I understand is more a theater decision and not a ScreenX decision, the front screen seemed to be a standard size, and no side screens were visibly present. After the trailers, however, the ScreenX experience kicked in, and I realized they were projecting the side images directly onto the walls of the auditorium. It looked passable, but the mounted exit signs and emergency lights proved to be a distraction.
Because the aim of ScreenX seems to be to immerse the audience in the movie by having accompanying images in their periphery, the glowing red of the exit signs gradually became less obtrusive as the film progressed, after I realized the best way to watch is to focus on the screen in front of me, and not pull my focus to the left or right side.
As we began delving into the 1990s-drenched story of Carol Danvers — and her transition from U.S. Air Force pilot to Kree warrior to superhero goddess — the immersion of ScreenX took hold and it did indeed enhance the experience. Being completely surrounded by the screen feels similar to a VR experience, albeit not quite on that level. It’s far better than D-Box or 4DX, which somehow thinks moving the seat or squirting water in your face will pull you deeper into the movie, when in fact, it does the opposite.
One huge immersion breaker with ScreenX is that it’s not active the whole time. Like a film that shot portions in IMAX, the film frequently drops the “side” screens, which immediately pulled me out of it. When it suddenly turns back on, you have to re-acclimate yourself to it all over again.
This — coupled with the fact that, because the theater was relatively small, the bright lights from the additional two projectors when they kicked back on — was enough to immediately cause a distraction, further pulling me out of the movie and making me more cognizant of my real-world surroundings.
I could see this working really well in a film that’s made with ScreenX showings in mind, doubly so for animated features or nature docs. But with Captain Marvel specifically, like the movie itself, it’s a mixed bag. Random scenes will utilize it — sometimes an action scene, sometimes not — and sometimes, even though there’s a prime opportunity to use it, they don’t.
It added a few moments of enhanced escapism, but with the additional distractions it brings, it’s something of a wash. The condition of the theater itself hindered things even more, producing a suboptimal movie-going experience.
ScreenX is an interesting concept, and one that audiences could really enjoy given the right theater and movie, but for now, I still find Dolby to be the best, with its top-tier sound and visual fidelity.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be how to view Captain Marvel on the big screen — but if you should hit the theater at all. Aside from its rousing final act, it’s a mediocre offering from Marvel, chock full of played-out ’90s jokes and a dreadfully boring first half. It’s passable but certainly problematic.