There are times when I am truly grateful to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. One such time was when I learned that “The Maze Runner” was being shown using the new Barco Escape format in only five locations across the country. One of those locations was just 40 minutes away from me in Redwood City, CA. Most people wouldn’t drive 40 minutes just to see a movie. I’m not most people and the chance to check out the new format meant that this wasn’t just another movie night.
The Barco Escape format uses three – count ‘em – three screens. How does it work? There are two screens on either side of the main screen that show what is in the periphery of what you would normally see on the primary screen. The side screens are not at a perfect ninety degree angle from the main screen but angled slightly so the audience can better see what is projected on them. The two extra projectors are digitally controlled along with the main projector so that the three images are synchronized. All of this coordination is made possible by utilizing software engines developed to enable a 360 degree environment in video games. I suspect the three screen format was chosen for ease of retrofitting theaters and so that home theater enthusiasts could re-create the experience using flat screens in their homes. I surmise that this makes the Escape format more commercially viable.
Those who study their movie history may know of the Cinerama format that was started in the 1950’s. Cinerama used a deeply curved screen that covered 145 degrees of arc. The screen was made up of 7/8 inch wide strips mounted in similar fashion to blinds that we see in windows today, only the screen strips pivoted vertically instead of horizontally. The pivoting was so each screen segment could be angled to face the audience. The reason the screen was made of angled strips was so that light wouldn’t reflect back and wash out the other side of the screen. The movies that were shot in Cinerama used 3 cameras that were angled 48 Degrees from one another and had overlapping fields of view. All three cameras were controlled with a common shutter to ensure that the three reels of film were capturing the same image at the same time. The three projectors used to present the films were also set up with the same 48 degree angles as the cameras used to shoot the film.
This approach to film making was abandoned for various reasons. The primary reason was the introduction of the anamorphic lens that could capture, and project, a wider field of view than the lenses in use at the time. The anamorphic lens cameras were also much less expensive to use than the three camera set up needed for Cinerama. Another reason was if one of the Cinerama film reels broke, the splice to fix it had to be exactly the same length as the pieces that were being replaced. That left a black section on one portion of the screen that was extremely noticeable when the other two projectors were projecting un-edited films. Finally, there was a very limited sweet spot where the three images blended seamlessly into one another. If you weren’t sitting in the sweet spot the images appeared to jump in relationship to one another, and the transition points were fuzzy.
The extra screens lend a depth of field that 3D films lack, and without requiring special glasses.
The Barco Escape Experience
I had some questions before seeing the Maze runner in Barco Escape format. Would the extra screens be distracting? Would it add to or detract from the movie experience itself? Was it worth driving 40 minutes to experience?
It turns out that there were only 5 out of 113 minutes that the side screens were in use. After the movie was over, I wished there had been a lot more. The effect was a little like looking out the front windshield of a moving car. You naturally focus on what is happening in front of you, but the scenery extends to either side, just like it would out the side windows of a car. The continuation of the scene onto the side screens was seamless and felt very natural. The addition of and the elimination of the effect was also seamless. I was almost surprised to notice when it did appear and didn’t realize it was missing until it had been gone for a while. Top marks to the editing crew.
During its use the effect was extremely effective when the shot was following the characters running through the maze. Though it was a bit unsettling when the perspective moved up or down, the different angles brought a sense of depth to the shot that would have been missing without the extra screens. In my opinion, the Escape format dramatically improved the portion of the film where it was used.
Looking back, there are parts of the movie that the extra content would have been distracting had it been present. Nothing would be gained by using this format during conversations between characters, or on static shots inside structures. I can certainly understand how a director would want to use this effect judiciously.
I go out of my way to avoid 3D movies. The glasses don’t work well for those of us that wear prescription glasses. Also, in my opinion, the effects aren’t worth the extra money theaters charge. Will Escape be different? The extra screens lend a depth of field that 3D films lack, and without requiring special glasses. Plus the possibilities for film makers are intriguing. They could slip extra content in the side shots that a viewer would have to be very diligent to catch, action scenes could come to life in new ways, and the panoramic shots used to set the tone of scenes would be greatly enhanced.
For me, it was worth the extra driving time to experience the Escape format, and I would do it again to see another film using this format. Time will tell if this catches on, but I like what I’ve seen so far.
About Brian Hill
Brian Hill is a home theater enthusiast who has an extensive background in sales. His interests include music & movies, F1 & NASCAR auto racing, hot rods (he has a '56 Nomad) and hockey — Go Sharks!
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