Right off the bat, the new Dolby Cinema auditorium at the AMC Hamilton 24 theater signals to guests that they’re not going to have typical movie-going experience. And it won’t let them forget.
Guests are treated to advertising informing them how the Dolby Cinema experience is unlike any other. How the illuminated pathway from the lobby into the auditorium transitions viewers into another world. How dual laser projectors give us 4K images with better brightness, contrast and color—including the truest, blackest black you’ll get in a movie theater. How the up to 64 speakers, placed all around the viewer, create object-based “moving sound.” How the recliners—reserved, plush and packed full of technology—“pulsate with the action.”
It’s a big boast, and at first glance, a bit overwrought. But then the coming attractions begin, and the theater roars to life. Seats rumble with each thunder strike. Bullets sound as if they whiz by your head. It becomes apparent the theatrics aren’t just hype—there’s something notable about this Dolby Cinema, after all.
There are over 110 Dolby Cinema locations in the United States—six in New Jersey—with more opening every month. One of the newer ones, the Dolby Cinema theater at AMC Hamilton 24 on Sloan Avenue premiered on May 24. Already, the auditorium has featured films such as Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and The Meg. Fall releases include Venom (Oct. 5), Mowgli (Oct. 19), Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Nov. 16) and Wreck It Ralph 2 (Nov. 21). A slew of releases will be presented in Dolby Cinema during the holiday season, including new Spiderman and Mary Poppins pictures, as well as DC Films’ Aquaman.
Dolby Cinema has been made with blockbusters in mind. Studios have started to take notice. In fact, the cast of Mission: Impossible – Fallout did some publicity for Dolby Cinema prior to the film’s July release. Tom Cruise, the movie’s star and producer, had high praise for Dolby Cinema, saying it provides a “premium” movie experience with better visual and audio quality. He added that he uses Dolby Cinema technology in his personal viewing rooms.
So, it was only natural that when Dolby pitched a story on Hamilton’s new Dolby Cinema auditorium, I’d test Cruise’s claims with his own film. (Full disclosure: Dolby provided a ticket to a Dolby Cinema screening for the purpose of this article.)
Consumers have a lot of choices, especially at AMC Hamilton 24. The theater presents movies in digital cinema, IMAX, Real D 3D, IMAX 3D and now Dolby Cinema. The main question on my mind was: With tickets the same price as IMAX and about $5 more than standard digital ($16.59 vs. $11), why choose Dolby Cinema?
I posed this to Dolby, and received a response from Frank Bryant, senior vice president of Dolby Cinema at Dolby Laboratories.
“Comparing Dolby Cinema to other movie options is like comparing apples and oranges,” he said in an email.
The goal of a Dolby Cinema presentation is to achieve “immersion,” according to Dolby’s PR. Other formats claim to do this, too, through using 3D effects, a larger screen, sharper visuals. Dolby has visual chops of its own—including a larger screen and 4K images—but sets itself apart with its sound and in-chair haptic effects.
Seeing a film in a Dolby Cinema theater is not a passive experience, but it isn’t a theme park ride either. While my seat rumbled noticeably and the sound was a bit loud during the previews—as if to show off the power of the technology—the experience was far more subtle and effective during the film.
Visually, scenes in Mission: Impossible – Fallout are stunning, particularly the range and depth of colors. Shots of Paris at sunset gave off a warm, welcoming glow, and made me want to book the first flight there. This is the work of the dual laser projectors, which enables more colors to be seen on screen. The projection system has a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio (the ratio from the blackest black to the whitest white possible). The average movie theater has much less contrast, with a ratio of 2,000:1.
But the audio package, Dolby Atmos, is the real star. Sound comes from all directions, bringing another dimension to the film.
Dolby Atmos allows filmmakers to take individual sounds and move them around the room. Traditionally, only left, right or center audio channels are available. It’s the difference between a precisely placed sound and one given a general, “over there” direction.
It works well in M:I – Fallout. During a car chase scene, a motorcycle whizzes by columns, producing a whooshing noise that moves away from you, creating the sensation of motion. When gunshot flies high, it registers in the auditorium going above and then behind the viewer. When an explosion hits center screen, bass gently shakes your chair.
It was enough that I had achieved that ballyhooed “immersion,” forgetting there were people around me or that I was in a theater until credits rolled.
I walked out of AMC satisfied that Dolby Cinema, true to its word, had transported me to another world. Either that, or the pre-show marketing worked on me more than I expected.