Game of Thrones in IMAX - The first must-see theater experience of 2015
There are spoilers here regarding season 4 of Game of Thrones, so if you're not caught up on the HBO epic, turn away!
As you may have heard, IMAX is doing a limited engagement of Game of Thrones. Starting today and running until February 5th, you can watch the last two episodes ('The Watchers on the Wall' and 'The Children') of Season 4. This is a bit of a unique situation, as anyone who hasn't seen the show can't be expected to walk in blindly and truly enjoy these two episodes. On the other hand, anyone who's an avid watcher of Thrones has already seen the finale of season 4. So the question is, why bother to see this in IMAX?
Make no mistkake: there is no 3D gimmick or extended footage to bring in the die-hard fans. IMAX and HBO are relying on the theater experience as their main draw. There is a sneak preview of season 5 but those 2 minutes are hardly worth an IMAX ticket price. I'll tell you right off the bat though that if you love Game of Thrones, then you will not regret the trek to see this special engagement in theaters. It's that simple.
The episodes have been transferred to the screen beat for beat, including the 'Previously On' segment and HBO's TV-static logo. It feels a bit off at first, but once the map of Westeros comes into view along with Ramin Djawadi's iconic theme, suppressing a grin will be your only concern. It's one of the great openers in television and seeing it on a big screen, in IMAX no less, is up there with the opening of a Bond or Star Wars film. It completely sets the tone for what's to come.
Regarding the video quality, it is not as sharp as those big-budget fantasy films you may be used to seeing in theaters, but the touch of softness and added grain actually help in adding an increased sense of realism. While I'm far from a hater of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, there's an amazing contrast between the two that showcases why Game of Thrones, at least from an aesthetic standpoint, is more engaging. Thrones doesn't have a huge budget to fall back on, so the creators have to rely on practical sets, the actors, and the drama to sell their story. Even when CGI is utilized, the whole universe has a very lived-in feel to it. There was some amazing CGI in last year's THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, but those moments would be hard-pressed to measure up to scenes that completely took my breath away in the IMAX screening of Thrones. My excitement was cranked up to 11 during the moment Jon Snow reaches the base of The Wall, and the camera pans around the entire stronghold to showcase the carnage going on. Or take, for example, the scene where the 5 members of the Night's Watch recite their vows before meeting their fate in the face of a giant. These scenes are all the more heart-pounding when you're watching them on a theater screen.
The sound mix isn't the most immersive experience you're going to find in a theater, with most of the action taking place in front, but that certainly doesn't take away from the experience. The dialogue is always crisp and clear, never getting muddled within the music or sound effects. Whether it be the two-horn blast signaling Wildlings or just the flicker of a torch in a room, the sound design is more than adequate in drawing you into Westeros. I'd say the most impressive aspect of the IMAX screening was the power of Djawadi's score. The music carries the weight of everything going on and then some. I would normally say that it's not even fair to judge a TV show with that of a big-budget film, but it all stands toe-to-toe with anything else you'll see in a theater this year. Even the more synth-y moments get a pass given how compelling the drama on-screen is.
Then there's the preview of Season 5. While it was only 2 minutes long, it did give some interesting glimpses of what's to come. Tyrion with sun-bleached hair, speaking with Varys about the future ruler of Westeros. Jorah Mormont made an appearance, finding himself dueling in a gladiator's arena. We also got to see Littlefinger being very hands-on with Sansa Stark, coaxing her into a revenge plot. Aside from some brief glimpses of war and scantily clad women, the stand-out shots were of Arya picking up her sword on what I assume is Bravos, as well as a quick look at the one dragon not locked up, and the toppling of a harpy statue in Meereen. I can't imagine it'll be too much longer until this preview hits online in its official form.
There have been discussions before about possibly ending Game of Thrones with a 2-hour film. When walking into this screening, I was cautiously optimistic; all too aware of the limitations of television and how the seams might burst when scrutinized on the big screen. Any doubts I had were quickly demolished, replaced instead with that joyous excitement you get from watching a great film unravel before your eyes. Game of Thrones, in a word, is compelling. Experiencing it in IMAX just amplified that and at the end of the screening, there was applause. The audience was completely into it, and that's when you know you have a great theater experience. The laughter when the Hound says something snarky. The gasp when a hero has fallen. It's that moment you cheer with a dozen strangers surrounding you, but don't care because you're sharing something great.
If you're on the fence about seeing Thrones in a theater, I hope this pushes you over the edge and into a theater seat this weekend. It's the first must-see theater experience of 2015. I was intrigued by the prospect of a theatrical finale for Game of Thrones. Now I demand it.
You can check to see which theaters are playing Game of Thrones here. Season 5 returns to HBO on April 8, 2015.