Last week, Disney+ launched thirteen Marvel Cinematic Universe titles in IMAX Enhanced, meaning that select sequences of its movies (or the entire film, for some) would contain the IMAX ratio of 1.90:1, as opposed to 2.39:1. For the longest time, the IMAX versions of MCU films were strictly available on Blu-Ray 3D, and as the format started to fizzle out in favor of 4K, only imported versions of 3D Blu-Rays had the IMAX ratio preserved. Now part of the issue has been fixed, with Disney making IMAX Enhanced widely available on Disney+ for the MCU titles that support the format. I say part of the issue since IMAX versions should also be available physically, but that’s a discussion for another time. And as film and TV viewing habits have been shifting to the streaming world, one could ask if IMAX’s deal with Disney+ is only the beginning of a change in the streaming ecosystem. Is Disney+ poised to make IMAX an integral part of their content? What could it mean for the future of the streaming service? Well, I’ve got a few theories.
More IMAX versions of Disney movies coming soon?
Now keep in mind that anything I say is not a rumor, nor an exclusive scoop, but pure and complete speculation. As a huge fan of IMAX, the company’s brand-new venture with Disney+ has opened a world of incredible possibilities. The first obviously being more IMAX Enhanced content might come its way on Disney+, restoring the IMAX formatted versions of, say, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Beauty and the Beast, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Alita: Battle Angel, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, to name a few. Now I understand some filmmakers aren’t happy with not being consulted before Disney made a decision in releasing IMAX versions of films for the home, but the most important thing is that Disney+ is still giving consumers a choice on whether to watch the widescreen version or the IMAX Enhanced one.
Could IMAX Enhanced have a role to play for Disney+ Originals?
IMAX has tried (and failed) to get into the television game by releasing the finale of the fourth season of Game of Thrones in theatres, and also contributing to Marvel’s Inhumans, which was the first television series to be shot entirely with IMAX cameras. The first two episodes premiered in IMAX theatres before the show made its way to ABC. However, if you’ve seen the show, you probably know how abysmal it is and killed any interest in IMAX to do television again.
But the television ecosystem has changed since Inhumans, and streaming services have begun to adopt a more “cinematic” approach to television. It’s become harder to differentiate what’s a film and a TV series on Netflix, for example, aside from the length. The Mandalorian looks and feels like an 8-hour movie, and the same can be said for the live-action series of the MCU, WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki. It doesn’t feel like TV (even if some of its CGI can be a bit hokey, and its action choreographies are not as refined as in the movies due to its limited budgets), and tries to replicate as accurately as possible the aesthetic of a Marvel movie.
Some Disney+ TV shows (The Mandalorian and Loki) have utilized an IMAX-like ratio in select sequences. The climax of episode 1 of The Mandalorian‘s second season was completely exhilarating and used the IMAX format brilliantly. But the rest of the series missed out on changing aspect ratios and providing a more immersive experience to viewers. As every MCU movie from Shang-Chi onwards will be utilizing IMAX cameras, either for the entire movie or select sequences, why not expand it to the series? If Kevin Feige or Jon Favreau laud “cinematic television” as part of the future of moviegoing, then why not capitalize on the most cinematic format there is.
No kidding, I’ve seen more than a hundred movies in IMAX, and it never ceases to amaze me. It’s the best way to see virtually anything in theatres, as the massive screen completely envelops you in the adventure. Nothing replaces the theatrical feeling of seeing the aspect ratio open up (if you’ve seen Dune or Eternals this year, you know what I’m talking about), but even watching it on a television screen produces an incredible cathartic effect to the viewer. The sequence feels more important, we’re more prone to be focused on the action when everything around us feels massive, regardless of the size of the screen we’re looking at.
It’s understandable that IMAX doesn’t want to move away from the theatrical experience, and they shouldn’t. But in order for a company to grow, they need to experiment with trends. And as streaming keeps growing, it’s hard for IMAX not to ignore its success. We’re in a new phase of entertainment, where theatrical films will be reserved to the big “tentpoles”, and most non-blockbuster movies will be releasing on VOD quicker than before. IMAX has a golden opportunity to capitalize on streaming by creating IMAX Enhanced original content for diverse streaming platforms. Disney+ was the beginning, but more (like Apple TV+, HBO Max, and Netflix) will obviously come. I do hope that IMAX (or Disney) won’t miss on the opportunity to push the boundaries of the technology further on the streaming service, even if nothing beats the theatrical experience.