I got the chance to take in an advanced screening on Thursday night of Marvel’s new film Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, at a Dolby Cinema at the AMC Theatres in New York City. Before the movie began, representatives from Dolby gave a presentation demonstrating their Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos technologies, and how their Dolby Total Cinema Experience compares to the standard theater-going experience. And I have to say, I was very impressed. Below are my thoughts on the Dolby Cinema experience and technologies, details from the demonstration, and then my two cents about Doctor Strange itself.
First off, before we even get to the sights and sounds of what Dolby offers, let’s talk about the comfort: Dolby Cinema partnered with AMC to create a totally immersive experience, which includes comfortable, spacious, reclining stadium-style boxed seats that are situated in such a way that there’s nothing blocking your view of the screen no matter where you sit. The chairs are paired in groups of two, with a large armrest in between. On the opposite arm is a panel with four reclining control buttons that illuminate blue when touched, that are in front of a large cupholder. The light goes off on the controls after a few seconds of non-use. Because the rows are boxes, there’s no way for anyone to kick the back of your chair, and there’s also plenty of room to get in and out of the rows without having to step over anything or anyone having to stand up from their seat. It’s basically like flying first class. As I sat there adjusting my seat without having to worry about hitting someone behind me (or that someone in front of me would recline into me), I was like “This is the dream.”
[AMC’s Dolby Cinema recliners. Image courtesy of AMC. Used with permission.]
Now mind you, I’ve been at movie theaters in other states where the seats were comfortable and spacious, but I just wanted to point out the comfort factor at the Dolby Cinema, because these days it takes a lot to get people away from their computers and out of their house to go to a movie theater, and I think what they’re offering is a major draw.
The location I went to — the AMC Empire 25 located on 42nd St. in New York City — has a wall-to-wall, floor-to-floor 78-foot-tall screen. Normally, I’m not a big fan of the larger screens because I am prone to episodes of Vertigo and sometimes if I feel too immersed in the screen, I get sick. But, thanks to the aforementioned ways in which these Dolby Cinema seats are set up, I didn’t have this problem (which I have had at some IMAX-formatted theaters, especially those with the curved screen). This theater had rows of seats near the front — but left a lot of space empty close to the screen — and then an aisle separating the block of seats in the back; I sat in the middle of the first full row behind the accessible seats in the second half of the theater, which I found was a perfect spot for me. The theater is also designed with matte black walls and ceiling, with black leather seats.
[AMC’s Dolby Cinema view from the front. Image courtesy of AMC. Used with permission.]
As you come in, there’s warm overhead lights, ambient LED lighting for the aisles and stairways (that still adhere to safety regulations), and red lights along the walls. Also, before you even enter the seating area, the hallway leading in contains a moving screen to set the tone for the movie being shown, so in this case it was Marvel’s Doctor Strange.
[AMC’s Dolby Cinema hallway screen shows off Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Photo by Empress Eve for Geeks Of Doom.]
Then there’s the Dolby Vision itself. To go with the black theater decor is a screen projection that is super black. We were shown the differences between Dolby’s black screen, and the standard screen, which looks charcoal gray in comparison. The difference is definitely noticeable. Now, I’ll be honest with you – I’m not so easily wooed by technologies that supposedly make the visual quality better. For instance, I really don’t enjoy seeing movies in 3D unless the 3D is the in-your-face gimmicky kind, and even then, I get annoyed with it quickly. Everyone raved about Avatar in 3D, while I was resent that I had to wear the intrusive 3D glasses, where you can’t move your head at all because the screen will become blurry. Not a problem with Dolby Vision because they make the visuals enhanced without the user haven’t to do anything, thanks in part to their two laser projectors.
During the demonstration, we were shown scenes from The Revenant, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Academy Award-winning film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. One of the things this film is known for (besides that whole bear rape thing) is that cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki shot the film using only natural light, an exhaustive feat considering many of the locations were outside during the night. We got to see how the Dolby Vision technology made these dark scenes more clear and expressive, while the daytime shots were more crisp. After that, we were shown a clip of a graffiti artist painting a mural, and the colors popped off the screen and were more vibrant than I’ve ever seen. All of this was truly stunning. Once they started Doctor Strange, which has sequences of darkness when the sorcerers are battling, and then very colorful portions when it goes into the other dimensions, I could really appreciate what Dolby brought to the experience.
To go with the Dolby Vision is the Dolby Atmos sound system. Now, let me tell you a little bit about my perceptions of Dolby: When I was a teenager up in the 80s, I bought my first stereo system, and it had a duel-cassette recorder in it that had Dolby noise reduction. Seeing that Dolby logo on it meant everything back then. So, the company has gotten my thumbs up since then. With that, when I go to a movie and the sound is TOO LOUD, I can’t take it. And guess what? I’m hearing impaired, but in such a way that loud doesn’t mean better for me. I need things to be clear and at a steady level. I remember when I saw Inception in the theater and every five minutes when that blaring BRRRAAAWWRWRMRMRMMRMRMMM! sound came on, my ears were killing me. Other people who watched it in different theaters said they didn’t come across this problem. Dolby Atmos proved to be the perfect balance to me. I’m also not always a fan of surround sound set-ups for the aforementioned reasons, but in the Dolby Cinema, I found it to enhance my viewing experience of Doctor Strange.
[AMC’s Dolby Cinema screening for Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Photo by Empress Eve for Geeks Of Doom.]
Apparently, a lot of leading filmmakers see the possibilities in adding Dolby enhancements to their projects. We were shown a reel of people like Peter Jackson, Brad Bird, Zack Snyder and more singing the praises of Dolby — their enthusiasm was infectious. I was curious as to what the cost is to have Dolby technology added to a film, and it turns out, it’s under $120,000 and it only takes a few days to do. On a big budget film from a studio like Disney, that’s a drop in the bucket to make the theater-going experience next-level, especially since they’ll likely easily earn that money back. We were told that even movies without Dolby enhancements that screen in the Dolby Cinema will appear higher in quality.
Dolby Cinema – Final Thoughts
While I do attend many advanced press screenings throughout the year, I find myself very reluctant to venture out to movie theaters to see films with the general public, unless it’s during non-peak hours. Thanks to home video and now instant video streaming, it’s been easier and less stressful for me to watch to watch a movie at home, then to go to a crowded theater with uncomfortable seats, sticky floors, and someone kicking my seat the enter time. Also, if I have to get dressed and watch a movie at a theater for 2 hours (or 3 if you’re in Lord Of The Rings territory), I need to be comfortable. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it for me. After watching Doctor Strange — a Marvel movie I’ve been anticipating, that opened on my birthday weekend, that stars one of my favorite actor — at the Dolby Cinema at AMC, I can wholeheartedly endorse the companies’ total cinema experience.
My British boyfriend Benedict Cumberbatch goes full American in this origins story of Marvel’s Doctor Stephen Strange, a brilliant yet arrogant neurosurgeon whose career is cut short after his hands are crushed in a car accident. The “doctor” title is very important to him, and he’ll argue semantics even more fiercely than he’ll battle Kaecilius, an attacking sorcerer played by Hannibal star Mads Mikkelsen. Although I kept expecting Kaecilius to go on about dining on liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti, it turns out he’s more fixated on helping big puffy guy in space Dormammu, who wants to pull Earth into the Dark Dimension. In case it’s unclear to anyone who’s ever seen a movie where there’s life beyond the Earth, the Earth is still the shit, OK? There’s nothing better than the Earth and everyone either wants it for themselves or wants to destroy it because they’re just jealous! The Earth is also very tasty, especially in the Marvel Universe, so always keep that in mind. Anyhow, U.S. Cumbers in his Batman Begins pre-Batman attire heads to the East to learn how to regain uses of his hands, because everyone knows that that’s what you do – they have all kinds of incense and acupuncture and magic and shit! He shows up in Kathmandu, Nepal without the appropriate street maps, and Ra’s al Ghul is nowhere to be found. Luckily, the sorcerer Mordo is out for a stroll on this very fine day, and brings Dr. Strange to his mentor, the Ancient One, played by British actress Tilda Swinton for political reasons because the Chinese do not acknowledge Tibet, so if they had made the character a Tibetan monk, the Chinese government would ban the film in their country and there goes a fuck-ton of money!!! Anyhow, Strange is a genius speed-reader with a photographic memory, so within minutes (or so it seems), he learns everything there is to know (or so he thinks). He’s so damned smart, yet he’s still trying to shave with a regular razor using his shaky broken hands. Do they not have electric razors in Nepal? Because they have the Internet! But listen, let’s talk about what’s important: Benedict Cumberbatch takes his shirt off. THE END. Oh wait, yes, there’s more. Hannibal is back and ready to fuck shit up, and there’s these Sanctums being guarded by like one person who is asleep I suppose and Doctor Strange and his pals have to fight Hannibal and Zod’s crew in various Inception-like scenarios (thankfully minus the BRRRAAAWWRWRMRMRMMRMRMMM!) to save the tasty Earth from the purple, people-eater in the sky.
– Best non-Doctor Strange character in the movie: the badass, humorous Cloak of Levitation, who gives Aladdin’s Magic Carpet a run for its money as most lovable enchanted inanimate object in cinema. Second runner up: Wong, who has the best facial expressions. This man knows his shit – don’t mess with his books!
– Best on-screen interaction: Doctor Strange meets Dormammu in space. This will surely win them an MTV Movie Award.
– Most likely not to win an MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss: Benedict Cumberbatch and Rachel McAdam, who did not go full Notebook.
– Best on-screen LSD trip: Strange falls down the rabbit hole and gets injected into Dennis Quaid Innerspace-style.
– Best Harry Potter moment: Strange learns from his Defense Against The Dark Arts textbook how to astral project into the library to steal the books in the Restricted Section.
– Worst motivation: Kaecilius. Someone please get this guy a copy of Lord of Illusions so he can see what happens to followers.
– Score most likely to sound like the Michael Giacchino Star Trek reboot score: the Doctor Strange score, which was also done by Giacchino.
– Most likely to need medication for bipolar disorder: Mordo
– Shout out to the Freedom Tower, which I see from my downtown Manhattan office building every day.
– Stay for the mid-credits scene to a laugh your ass off cameo; remain through the end of the credits for another scene.
– Speaking of credits, I totally loved the music played during the end credits. It was like Steve Vai doing Asian-inspired guitar work, and then all of a sudden Emerson, Lake, and Palmer show up. Listen to it in the video embedded just below!
“The Master of the Mystic” End Credits From Doctor Strange
Ok, my jokes make it seem like I don’t know shit about Doctor Strange or the Marvel Universe for that matter, but I’m really just being silly. To be clear, I absolutely loved this movie. I’ll save my serious review for the eventual Blu-ray Edition. Just go see Doctor Strange at a Dolby Cinema if you can, it’s totally worth it. If there isn’t one near you, then go your usual theater route, because this is definitely a film to see on the big screen at least once.