Cinema is largely a business of gimmicks. Movies may be art and have the ability to shock, inspire and/or move us, but that’s only part of the overall world of cinema. Dreams are only part of the Dream Factory, after all.
While movie studios have tons of ways to make money – licensing, TV rights, product placement and so on – theaters really don’t. All of them have films and all of them have food, so how do individual theaters stand out in a crowded marketplace?
This isn’t exactly new. From 3-D movies and Cinerama to IMAX and D-Box, theaters have always been fighting the good fight in the battle of trying to persuade movie fans to leave the calm of their homes to venture out to see a movie. In the end, the question is, as it’s always been, how do you give movie fans something they can’t get at home?
Which brings us to the world of Barco Escape.
The easiest way to think about Barco Escape is like movies on steroids. Instead of one massive screen, there are three giant screens, each with the ability to show content independent of the other two. If you’re at the back of the theater, it’s like watching multiple monitors at work, but up close presents an extremely immersive experience for the viewer.
It is distinctly something that you couldn’t replicate in your home. TVs may have gotten bigger and 3-D Blu-ray players exist and, if you’re a rich showoff, you can purchase a D-Box seat if that’s what you’re into, but watching Barco Escape is something that you’ll likely never experience outside of a theater.
But it’s also something that you’re going to experience differently depending on where you see it. Current theaters weren’t built with the format in mind, and depending on where you see it, the experience might vary depending on how the theater is set up.
Barco Escape, in a way, is frustrating, because while it’s a very interesting concept, it’s also a very new one. At a special preview event up at the Santikos Silverado in Tomball, I got a look at a couple of different works in the format, and I can see the potential the technology has. Some of the “Hey, look at this really wide video” content didn’t floor me, they narrative editing and documentary potential is fascinating. In particular, a Barco Escape piece from a concert was screened and it was, even in the one song we got to watch, better that 90 percent of the concert films I’ve seen in my life.
Whether or not the format takes off will come down to, as it usually does, how filmmakers use the technology. Barco Escape CEO Todd Hoddick talked about how technology for the sake of technology isn’t gratifying, and he’s right. We’ve all had that experience of paying to see a film in 3-D only to end up watching a movie that didn’t use the technology in a particularly interesting way; you may have also paid to give yourself a headache, depending on how the 3-D glasses work on your brain.
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The big thing for Barco Escape coming up is Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, which features 20 minutes of Barco Escape content. Locally, if you make the drive up to Tomball to check it out for yourself, you can see the film at the Santikos Silverado this weekend without paying the Barco Escape upcharge.
What will you see? That is a mystery. While our preview event included some interesting stuff, we did not get any clips from the Maze Runner sequel.
But I’ll confess that after what I did see, I’m actually pretty interested in seeing the movie, which is not something I would have said before my Barco Escape experience. I don’t know if it’ll be as special as experiencing the whimsy of Disney’s Paperman in D-Box or just generally being in awe of what Christopher Nolan did with the Joker while watching The Dark Knight in IMAX, but I would love for there to be another new experience I could choose from at the theater.
Right now what I see for Barco Escape is potential. I find myself wondering what Pixar or David Fincher or Trent Reznor would do with this technology. Whether or not Hollywood or other theaters begin to embrace this new format remains to be seen, but it's something all lovers of an interesting theater experience should keep tabs on.