How Should I See Prometheus?

I’m an enormous fan of Sir Ridley Scott, and can claim to have seen pretty much everything he’s directed. Yes, even the horror that was A Good Year.
So with Prometheus imminent, with personal anticipation levels matched only by Dark Knight Rises, and perhaps Skyfall, I decided tonight that I really ought to sort out tickets in advance.
But while once upon a time it’d have just been a question of booking seats for my preferred cinema, there’s now the format to contemplate. Prometheus is being released in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D. Well it’s not quite, but we’ll come to that.
Now I must admit that I’ve not been paying quite close enough attention to film formats of late. But despite broadly finding 3D gimmicky and off-putting (I didn’t even like it on Hugo where I experienced lots of ghosting), my first inclination was to go for IMAX 3D. The best cinema for this is the BFI in Waterloo. But perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s pretty sold out. There are still seats available, but they tend to be in the front rows (never great on that massive screen) or at 2.45am showings (really!).
So I thought I’d see if there are any other IMAX screens around London. There used to be one in the Trocadero in Piccadilly, but these days that’s a Laserquest or something. However, there is an IMAX screen at the Odeon Swiss Cottage. And it still had some decent seats available. I started to book. But then I looked at the layout a little more closely, and it seemed to be, well, not all that big. So I did a bit more Googling, and found a thread at Empire magazine that expressed a certain amount of dissatisfaction on the part of one cinema goer.
You see “IMAX” today isn’t necessarily the screen we all though it once was. The IMAX at the BFI is huge and quite square in aspect ratio. It remains the largest screen in Europe. I hear the one in Bradford is pretty decent too. When I saw Mission Impossible 4 there, the true IMAX scenes really gave a feeling of scale. Similarly, the Dark Knight Rises trailer was also breathtaking in IMAX. But the screen at the Odeon Swiss Cottage, while conforming to what I’m sure are very exacting IMAX standards, is still much smaller, and a very different shape. Indeed, it’s not immediately clear how the screen size actually differs all that much from regular screens. Yes, there are two projectors and the image is brighter, but that’s not really what I think of when I think IMAX.
So I paused. A bit more Googling. What are others suggesting we see Prometheus in? Well Scott is now a big fan of 3D, and he did properly shoot the film with 3D cameras. None of the post-conversion jobs that are still all too prevalent. Yes, CGI can be re-rendered reasonably well, but otherwise, if you didn’t use the 3D cameras, I definitely don’t want to know.
But even true 3D has problems. Aside from ghosting and general eye-strain, there’s also the darkening that 3D causes. You lose loads of light, and I find it particularly noticeable.
If the trailers for Prometheus tell us nothing else, they tell us that it’s a dark, brooding film.
Before Avatar was released, there was a 15 minute preview shown in cinemas a couple of months earlier. I actually saw that preview at the BFI Waterloo. A lovely screen with excellent projection. But it was just dull – dark even. And that’s a bright film – at least as I understand it. I was generally unimpressed by that preview and have yet to see the full film.
So despite the film being made in true 3D, the potential darkness is off-putting. What’s more, it certainly wasn’t shot in IMAX as Mission Impossible 4 and Dark Knight Rises have been. So IMAX – or mini-IMAX – was out of the reckoning. And 3D was out too.
I’ll see it in 2D.
Now film distributors and theatre owners rather prefer us to see films in 3D. They make more money by charging a premium. Therefore, with most multiplexes having been expensively converted, more screens show the big blockbusters in 3D than 2D. But nonetheless, there’s usually at least one screen offering the film in 2D.
I had heard that these 2D showings are doing remarkably well, with 2D screens in general being fuller. So I thought I’d book tickets pronto.
That’s when I hit my next problem. Finding a cinema that’s taking advance 2D bookings anywhere in London.
Cineworld, who run my local multiplex, will let you choose Prometheus in 2D from their dropdown list. Unfortunately, the local 15-screen multiplex is not offering a 2D showing, at least for pre-booking. The closest cinema offering advance booking seems to be in Eastbourne! (To be fair, they only seem to have put the 3D film on in one screen so far, judging by screenings they’re currently selling, so maybe a 2D version will screen locally. We just don’t know yet.)
On the Odeon website it was worse. No 2D screenings offered for pre-booking at all. Just 3D and [mini] IMAX 3D. Meanwhile, Vue listed a 2D version of the film in their forthcoming attractions, but no cinemas were available to book. You could book a 3D screening though.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither the Everyman group (home of Screen On… cinemas) nor the Curzon group list Prometheus as a film they’ll have soon. They are arthouse chains after all.
So thank goodness for the Picturehouse group. They have a single lunchtime screening at their key sites in 2D each day. Heaven forbid that you might want to go to the cinema in the evening without the bother of glasses.
Anyway, as a result of all of this, I’m off to pay my first visit to the Hackney Picturehouse in a couple of weeks’ time.
As I say, perhaps some other London cinemas will actually end up screening the 2D version of Prometheus in at least one of their multiplex screens. And maybe this film would change my views on 3D were I to see it in that format. By booking a 2D screening, I’m perhaps missing out. That’s a risk I’m willing to take. But it’s a shame that they make it so hard to see a film the way we, as viewers, want to see it.
[UPDATE] Two days before the film opens, and I check the options again. Now all the chains are offering advance booking in 2D. My local Cineworld has it in 2D on one screen (compared with between two and three screens in 3D), as does my nearest Odeon. And Vue also has it in 2D across its multiplexes. I couldn’t help but notice several complaints on the latter’s website about the lack of 2D options though.
So there you have it. Cinema chains, perhaps unsurprisingly, are pushing the 3D versions of films. They earn them more money, so you’d expect them to. The fact that there are 2D versions available, and that 3D TV really hasn’t taken off, leads me to suspect that the industry still over-eggs 3D demand far too much.
Unfortunately for the big chains, I’ve taken my custom elsewhere.
[UPDATE 2] And it turns out that both the Curzon and Everyman chains are showing Prometheus, with both having 2D screenings. So there you go. They just didn’t pre-promote them well enough/at all.
Here’s my review of the film. In 2D.