BFI IMAX refurbishment hits the spot for Black Panther Wakanda Forever

BFI IMAX refurbishment hits the spot for Wakanda Black Panther Forever

Earlier this week, the BFI IMAX in London reopened after a refurbishment with Wakanda Black Panther Forever the film that gives its first release to the long-awaited new IMAX laser projector.

The film was introduced at the midweek preview by BFI CEO Ben Roberts, who when he welcomed the arrival of the new laser projector and 12-channel sound system was somewhat taken aback by the ‘whoop whoops’ from the audience: as his fashionable leather jacket suggests, he’s apparently not a tech nerd – don’t worry, Mr. Roberts, we won’t get the better of you no rigor!

The BFI’s piece de resistance is its huge screen which, at 65 feet high, is still the tallest in the country. To put this into perspective, Roberts used the usual UK descriptor of the screen being the height of five double-decker buses – so it’s not small. However, it’s worth pointing out that while this may be true for the screen, it only applies when the content is also displayed at that height: that’s IMAX 1.43:1 full-frame content. Unfortunately, the new single laser projector that has been installed is not able to do this. At least the BFI has chosen to keep its 15/70mm IMAX projector which can fill this incredible screen, so when films available in this format do appear – namely Christopher Nolan films, the BFI will be ideal.

As you enter the theatre, this giant screen is certainly the first thing you will see, then as you turn around you will notice new carpets and new seats, with holders for wine glasses. Take a seat and you’ll find that the seats are more comfortable than the old ones, with good back support, which is welcome, especially for feature films. There’s no recline in any of the seats, however – and while I found legroom to be good, those with generous upright proportions may wish for more room. At least the screen rake is very good, so you don’t have to worry about someone tall blocking your view.

Once seated, I could see the speakers behind the screen of the new 12-channel audio system – three behind the screen and one channel overhead. There are also speakers on the sides and plenty above the ceiling.

So how did it all look and sound? I would say it was top notch. I was seated closer to the front than I would have liked which meant I was looking up which is never my preference but I couldn’t fault the quality of the image. Maybe a dual laser would have been even brighter, but it seemed noticeably brighter to me than when I last visited. Colors were strong, black levels were good, and in darker scenes there was still good shadow detail – and I think the vibrancy of Wakanda Black Panther Forever was a good showcase for the system.

The sound was also very impressive. Since I was positioned right of center, the right channel dominated, but panning to the left gave good dimensionality and I could hear content in the height channels. IMAX doesn’t offer directional sound in the same way Dolby Atmos does, but there’s no doubting the power and efficiency. I heard even deeper bass on this screen with the older system, so I’d attribute it to the sound design of the movie rather than the system itself.

Ultimately, as Roberts pointed out, rather than the technical specifications, it was the cultural significance of the reopening that was important. He explained why a nonprofit charity like the BFI chooses to show mainstream content like Marvel movies. “We believe in screen culture for everyone,” reflecting how joyous the opening weekend of movies, such as Spider-Man, has been. There was certainly a festive cheer here too. The evening was organized in partnership with We Are Parable, an organization that provides the opportunity to experience Black Cinema in a culturally relevant, memorable and unique way, making a film such as Black Panther a centerpiece of that mission. The film both mourns and celebrates the legacy of Chadwick Boseman, and you’d be hard pressed to keep a dry eye in the opening and closing segments.

Overall though, aside from the lack of 1.43:1 digital, the BFI IMAX refurbishment is a success and I imagine a visit to the new future for Avatar: The Way of the Waterwill look great on the cards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *