IMAX in ‘Wonderland’: ‘Alice’ leads a growing parade of giant-screen releases

Feb. 19, 2010 | 2:20 a.m.


Are you ready for a trip down the rabbit hole? Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and Disney are adding a strange new chapter to the Lewis Carroll classic with their “Alice in Wonderland,” a film that presents a young woman who finds herself in the world of the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the Red Queen and greeted as a returning visitor. We’re counting down to the film’s March 5 release with daily coverage. Today, a look at the film’s IMAX release as Yvonne Villarreal chats with Greg Foster, chairman and president of IMAX Filmed Entertainment, about the royal-sized treatment of Burton’s fantasy film.

Red Queen

YV: This modern 3D trend, to some people, seems like just a gimmick that is oversaturating the industry. In the case of “Alice in Wonderland,” how does the technology enhance the experience?  

GF: It takes you inside the movie. We’ve been fortunate enough to have Tim Burton in our office quite a bit over the last few weeks and it’s so exciting to be around another filmmaker. . . one of IMAX’s secret weapons. Filmmakers like IMAX, they love IMAX. It’s the way I think a lot of them imagine their movie when they close their eyes and think about the movie they’re making.  I think a lot of them see it in their minds as if it were an IMAX presentation. When you have someone with the creative firepower of Tim Burton or James Cameron, etc, it’s a very cool thing to be a part of. In terms of 3D,  just like IMAX isn’t for every movie, neither is 3D. “The Polar Express” was the catalyst for a lot of this 3D momentum. That’s the only way you could have seen it in 3D, was in IMAX.  It’s pretty cool that a lot of this got started because of something that flowed through IMAX theaters, but we’ve learned the hard way that not everything’s right for 3D. If you put a movie like — I’m not knocking the movie — but if you put “My Dinner with Andre” in 3D, I don’t know how that’s a special, unique experience. There’s certain movies that lend themselves to 3D, and there’s certain movies that don’t. And we have a very specific list of criteria and we stick to that criteria.

Can you share some of those criteria?

Absolutely. First and foremost, it’s a studio that supports IMAX and supports the marketing of the film and the distribution of a film as an event and is proud of letting everyone know that this is not just another movie they’re filling the pipeline on. It’s a unique special film. Two, a filmmaker who has a vision; who has scope; who recognizes that this is not just another movie. And that’s why we have spent an enormous amount of time coveting relationships with filmmakers, whether it’s a 2D release or a 3D release. Filmmakers that are sort of the who’s who in filmmaking. Could be Chris Nolan; could be James Cameron. Could be Michael Bay or Stephen Spielberg. Could be J.J. Abrams. Could be Tim Burton.  Could be Bob Zemeckis… and when you look at our films, you’ll see going forward, most of the movies we’re involved with are by filmmakers who’ve already been a part of the IMAX process. We’ve done “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, now we have “Alice and Wonderland.” And Johnny Depp had such a cool time that he narrated our movie “Deep Sea 3D,” which is an underwater, 40-minute documentary movie.  We did “Batman Begins, we did “The Dark Knight.” We’ve done Harry Potter 3, 4, 5, 6 and we’re doing the next “Harry Potter” films, the final two. That to me says filmmakers understand what IMAX brings to their presentation. Lastly — which is probably the most important of all — does the movie take you somewhere you dream about going to but probably will never get to. That can be Hogwarts, the Hubble telescope, Wonderland, Pandora … Someone asked me over the weekend, ‘What really does IMAX do?’ And I said we deliver a premium presentation and we transport people from the world of Pandora to the world of Wonderland and beyond.


I haven’t seen it yet, but “Alice” looks as if it will not have as much intense action like “Avatar” or “Transformers.” Does that hurt it in IMAX?

The movie in IMAX will take you into Wonderland. Through the characters, through the sound, through the clarity of the image, through the impressiveness of the IMAX presentation.  You are there. If you’re looking for a first-person passport to the world of Wonderland, this is a great way to see it. I think that’s part of why Tim has spent so much time fine-tuning the IMAX presentation on this film. He’s been an incredible partner of ours, as has Disney. We’re really, really, really lucky. If you look at our lineup over the course of the last few months, and then going forward, we’ve gone from “A Christmas Carol” with Bob Zemeckis to Pandora with “Avatar” and James Cameron to “Alice in Wonderland” … we have “How to Train Your Dragon” through a  Jeffrey Katzenberg/Dreamworks animation title at the end of March. We have a Hubble film which is a documentary movie specifically for our museums, science centers and aquariums in March also — which Leonardo DiCaprio narrated. We have “Iron Man 2.” We have “Shrek 4.” We have “Toy Story 3.” We have “Twilight.” And we have “Inception.” That’s between now and July. That was a good decade for us a while ago. In terms of volume of movies, in 2010, we’re going to be somewhere around 14 and 16 titles. There may be a little bit of room for one or two more at a certain point. Ultimately, we’ve made a very specific decision to be the format of choice for big event, tent-pole blockbuster movies. We want to be really selective and make sure moviegoers recognize that when a movie is in IMAX, it’s not an alternative content. It’s a special, unique big event, tent-pole blockbuster made by a terrific director with a very specific vision. It’s kind of like, it’s not broken so we’re not going to try to fix it.

Greg Foster of IMAX


But as more movie studios want to roll out IMAX premieres of their films have you thought of a time when there may be a need to have more screens to show three or four simultaneous films?

I do. And we’re working on it. . . . the marketplace is throwing so many 3D movies to moviegoers and people are picking IMAX as the place to see them.  If you went to the bridge the weekend Alice and Wonderland opens, my guess is you’d see IMAX will sell out and our spill out will go over to non-IMAX 3D and then non-IMAX 3D will sell out and then it will spill over to 2D. That’s just a supply and demand issue. There’s so much demand for 3D product and there’s not enough supply of 3D screens, particularly 3D screens that are the premium way of experiencing a movie, which is an IMAX. I think eventually there will be more movies — there kind of already is — than we know what to do with. The solution to that is having more screens. I think it’s very obvious that that’s where the world is headed.

There were reports that Fox was trying to keep “Avatar” in as many IMAX and 3-D locations as possible even as “Alice” is set to replace it on March 5. What’s the status on that?   

We’re looking forward to taking moviegoers from Pandora to Wonderland. I’m pretty confident Wonderland will be in most of our theaters, if not all of our theaters. . . .We have a whole new group of people who’ve never experienced IMAX before, especially IMAX 3D, and they have such a good time at “Avatar.” We played the trailer for “Alice in Wonderland” during  “Avatar,” as well as “How to Train a Dragon” and “Toy Story 3” . . . I have a feeling that they’re going to come back and have a great experience with “Alice.” I know they will after they see the movie.

— Yvonne Villarreal


Alice in Wonderland poster

Tea-party revolt? UK theaters theaten “Alice” boycott

Burton says “Alice” has a “national treasure” in actress Windsor

Burton and stars will be at “Alice” fan event in L.A. on Feb. 19

Meet Bloodhound, a newcomer to Wonderland

“Alice” screenwriter is ready for the haters

Red Queen = Leona Helmsley? Maybe so, says Burton

Burton took a “Shining” to Tweedledee and Tweedledum

“Alice in Wonderland” as silent film, musical and … porn?

Mia Wasikowska on Depp: “He’s so brave and smart”

“Alice” star says “Wonderland” is a sequel, not remake

Johnny Depp picks his poison for “Alice”

PHOTOS: Images from “Alice in Wonderland” (Walt Disney Co.) Portrait of Greg Foster of IMAX (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times).

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