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Why ‘Game of Thrones’ in IMAX Is Worth Your Money, and Why It’s Not

Why 'Game of Thrones' in IMAX Is Worth Your Money, and Why It's Not

Nothing can really prepare you for the first moment of seeing that all-too-familiar HBO static logo — complete with pop-and-whizz sound effects — on an IMAX screen. 

A sound and image so closely tied with decades worth of great, intimate television, projected onto a 72-foot tall screen in surround sound… I confess, I laughed out loud. But immediately afterwards I was drawn into the epic adventure and brutal drama of “Game of Thrones,” having shelled out for a matinee ticket to HBO’s one-week premiere of two episodes, plus an “exclusive” trailer. (Of course, the trailer leaked online hours before I even arrived at the theater.) 

Why did I go? To tell you whether it was worth your time and money. After all, thanks to your cable subscription or DVD addiction, you already spend some serious cash each month to watch “Game Of Thrones,” so why should you plunk down $13+ to essentially watch reruns with a bunch of strangers? 

Like everything in the world of Westeros, the answer is not simple.  

What You Get

At this morning”s AMC Universal Citywalk screening, the close-to-half-full audience (not bad for 10am) was treated to the usual pre-show advertainment, then four trailers: “Terminator Genisys,” “Seventh Son,” “Focus” and “Jupiter Ascending.” (So, in AMC’s mind, the “Game of Thrones” audience likes high fantasy, robots, unusual romances, sexy capers and Emilia Clarke. Not too far off.) 

Once through the trailers and IMAX countdown intro, title cards appear with the names of the episodes to be screened, along with a reminder for the two-minute Season 5 trailer that’s, in theory, the real reason you’re there. Then, the episodes screen just as if your giant friend were playing his giant DVDs in his giant living room: Previously On, opening credits, the full episode, followed by the full episode credits. (I was not the only one to use the Episode 9 credits as a bathroom break.)

Same goes with Episode 10, then onto the trailer, and then, the end and the black IMAX logo. It was actually a bit disorienting to watch a credits sequence followed by a trailer, as if we’d just seen a Marvel movie. Many people lingered for a few minutes after the trailer ran, in case there was something else that was supposed to happen next. 

And coming out of it, there were both good and bad elements to the experience… [Mild spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season 4 follow.]

Why It Isn’t Worth Your Money

First off, are you not a “Game of Thrones” fan? This isn’t for you. The two episodes that make up this screening are the second-to-last and last of the fourth season, accompanied by “Previously On” montages on an epic scale. 

And even with those montages, it’s hard to imagine a newcomer to the series really understanding what’s happening. Because in case you’ve forgotten, some weird, weird stuff happens in these Season 4 episodes. Giants riding wooly mammoths! A queen crying over having to lock up her dragon babies! Mysterious fey creatures living in trees who can shoot fireballs! Samwell Tarly making out with a girl! 

Remember when “Game of Thrones” first premiered, and it was your basic gritty medieval times epic with the occasional zombie? Oh, “Game of Thrones.” How far we’ve come.

Also, aspect ratio purists have room for complaint: The shift from widescreen to IMAX format does, in fact, lead to some pretty clear screen cropping. It isn’t extremely distracting, for the most part — certainly nothing on the level of what happened to “The Simpsons” on FXX — but it is present. The scene in which I found myself noticing it the most was Tyrion’s climatic showdown with Shae and Tywin: Most especially the final panning shot of Tyrion and Shae on the bed, which chopped off about 20 percent of Shae’s face — and lessoning the horrific impact of that moment by the same amount.  

It also goes without saying that because the original series wasn’t filmed with IMAX cameras, the picture resolution isn’t a Nolan-level of flawless. But it’s not that bad. Not that bad at all. In fact, there are several reasons… 

Why It’s Worth Your Money

One clear reason that these episodes were chosen for the IMAX treatment — aside from the fact that they were the last to air — is that they feature some of the show’s most cinematic work. Episode 9, “The Watchers on the Wall,” is essentially 10 minutes of Samwell Tarly and Jon Snow talking about sex, and then 45 minutes of intense combat; the episode was well-received originally, but seeing it in IMAX makes you really appreciate the careful geography required to stage such a scene. The 360-degree pan across the battle between wildlings and the King’s Guard, seen at that size, is breathtaking, but even a simple two-man swordfight, at that scale, shows off the skill of both performers on a new level.  

Also, there’s nothing like IMAX to make you appreciate the striking beauty of some of the “Game of Thrones” locations. For every close-up of a festering wound, there’s a breathtaking Northern Ireland vista; perhaps not an equal trade-off, depending on your personality, but for those who appreciate a good panorama shot, there’s no lack of them here. 

An interesting element of these two episodes, by the way: They’re completely devoid of sex and nudity. The R rating assigned by the MPAA is entirely based on violence and language, making you appreciate just how TV-MA this television really is. 

The communal element of the theater-going experience is a coin flip, to be honest, and depends on personal preference and the audience’s respect level. It was fun to not be the only one laughing at some of the few moments of comedy the show offers up, and at the end, people applauded. That was kind of neat. 

The music also really soars, especially the final choral notes of Episode 10 (which are so stirring that I suspect they were a major factor in spurring that applause). No matter how good your home theater is, it’s unlikely to beat IMAX-quality surround sound. And with all the little details that IMAX enables you to catch, it’s an excellent investment for those seeking to truly appreciate the craft of this show. 

On a personal level — honestly, that moment with the HBO logo alone might have been worth my money, because it so perfectly encapsulated how epic and stirring a piece of media can be. Call this yet another nail in the coffin for the division between television and film. If that division wasn’t already dust.  

READ MORE: 17 TV Shows We Want to See in IMAX After ‘Game of Thrones’

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