San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

IMAX Wows First-Timers, Fails to Impress Others

Cinephiles in Costa Rica have a big new option with the recent arrival of the country’s first IMAX movie theater, though some say it isn’t big enough.

Inaugurated at the end of 2009 in the new Avenida Escazú shopping center in the western San José suburb of Escazú, Repretel’s Nova Cinemas entertainment complex offers unprecedented technology and dimensions to moviegoers in the capital. Still in the first stage of inauguration, the complex houses one IMAX theater, two 3-D digital theaters and two general 35 mm film theaters for enjoying the latest flicks. Additionally, two VIP theaters are set to open here at the end of the month.

The main draw is undoubtedly the IMAX theater, which has sold out every day since it opened, according to Repretel administrative assistant Jinet Varela. It seats 280 people and has the capability of screening 3-D movies with six-channel digital sound and the help of plastic, reusable, disinfected 3-D glasses.

According to Julio Mena, administrative and financial director of Grupo Repretel, the IMAX technology generates a high-definition image that is transmitted by two projectors – normal digital theaters have only one projector – producing a more realistic 3-D effect. The screen, which extends beyond the range of human peripheral vision, is three times larger than the average movie screen in Costa Rica. While the size is unprecedented in the country, those who have viewed IMAX movies elsewhere may be disappointed.

Size Matters

Margie Davis, a native of the U.S. state of Massachusetts and a resident of Santa Ana, southwest of San José, is unimpressed with the new theater.

“I’ve been to IMAX (in the United States), and this is no IMAX,” Davis said. “It’s just a movie theater.”

Marilyn Reisil, an Escazú resident who hails from the U.S. city of Miami, agreed, saying that while the seats are comfortable and the sound good, the theater didn’t measure up to her expectations. “It was too small,” Reisil said. “It was a mini-IMAX – a mini-max.”

A standard IMAX screen is 22 meters (72 feet) wide and 16.1 meters (53 feet) high, which makes the Nova Cinemas IMAX smaller than average at 21 meters (69 feet) wide and 12 meters (39 feet) high. However, Nova Cinemas’ admission price of ¢5,000 (about $9), with no discount for children or seniors, seems more or less proportional to  the screen’s stature; in the United States, most IMAX movie tickets range from $13 to $15 for adults.

New Viewers Satisfied

Jaded expats aside, the theater is an exciting attraction for first-time IMAX viewers. For Catalina Ramírez, 16, of San José, the experience was everything she had hoped it would be.

“It was very cool,” she said. “(The screen) is very big, and you can actually feel the sound. It was an incredible feeling.”

The Nova Cinemas complex joins the ranks of television, radio and media enterprises owned by Costa Rican media giant Repretel. The shopping and entertainment complex also hosts upscale clothing stores, a video arcade, fast-food sushi, a skate shop, a gourmet perfumery and more. The theater complex alone has created 60 new jobs, Mena said.

The second stage of the theater, set to open at the end of the month, will feature a VIP lounge and sports bar in addition to the two VIP theaters, which will feature electronic luxury reclining seats and personalized service, Mena said. It will be the second VIP theater to open in the country after Cinépolis Terramall in Tres Ríos, east of the capital.

Ticketing Technology

Moviegoers will eventually be able to purchase their tickets online or on-site at a self-serve ticket office, as well as at the traditional human-staffed ticket office. Tickets can be purchased up to eight days in advance and should be purchased at least one to two days before the show. The 5:10 and 8:10 p.m. subtitled IMAX showings tend to be the most popular, especially on weekends. Ticket holders start lining up two hours in advance to enter the theater. Varela said the cinema has plans to create an assigned-seat system to eliminate the wait.

All wheelchair-accessible, the theaters offer wide aisle space to avoid the familiar experience of crawling over fellow moviegoers’ knees. Come dressed for winter, as theaters are air-conditioned to the temperature of a meat locker.

Since opening last month, the IMAX theater has been showing James Cameron’s box office smash “Avatar.” Next in line will be “Alice in Wonderland” in March, Mena said, adding that successful international documentaries will also be shown in the future.

Though this IMAX theater may not measure up to standard ones abroad, Nova Cinemas does offer what is probably the most technologically advanced way to watch movies in the country. Despite the long lines and higher price, the IMAX theater continues to sell out on a daily basis. Whether the crowds will persist after the novelty wears off remains to be seen.


New Nova Cinemas

Nova Cinemas is in Avenida Escazú, on the east side of CIMAHospital in Escazú, phone 2299-7485. Ticket prices: for the IMAX theater, ¢5,000 ($8.90); for the digital 3-D theaters, ¢3,500 ($6.25) for adults and ¢3,200 ($5.70) for children, seniors and students with ID; and for the general theaters, ¢2,300 ($4.10) for adults and ¢1,800 ($3.20) for children, seniors and students with ID.


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