If you had a choice between watching ‘Real Steel’ in conventional 2D or IMAX, which would it be? You’d probably be thinking what the difference is between the two formats, notwithstanding the higher ticket price for IMAX. And frankly, we did not know better too- until we decided that we should compare one with the other to understand just how much more the extra $10 was worth. So over the last weekend, we caught ‘Real Steel’ in both the conventional 2D digital and IMAX format- and let’s just say that we’d pick the latter over the former anytime.

The first thing you notice when you step into an IMAX hall is the curvature of the screen. They weren’t kidding when they say it boasts immersive theatre geometry- tilted and curved towards the audience, it fills your field of view so you feel as if you’re part of what’s going on in the movie. That’s something you’ll never get in a conventional movie theatre- even if you decide to take the first few rows from the screen. 

Unlike a normal cinema, the main feature fills up the entire IMAX screen- in other words, how much blank screen you see before the movie is what you get when the movie plays- and the result is akin to watching a 60-inch screen versus a 21-inch screen at home.

It doesn’t stop there. Not only is the IMAX screen bigger, the digital images projected are also brighter and clearer. It isn’t just a matter of taking the same source and blowing it up on a bigger canvas. IMAX uses their proprietary Digital Media Remastering (DMR) process to upconvert the film before projection, and that includes enhancing the original image by sharpening, color correction, and eliminating unsteadiness. Instead of just one, you also get two projectors that deliver images to your left and right eye simultaneously, minimising the kind of distortions during fast-moving scenes with just a single digital projector.

And may we say that the result is just stunning- every detail on each of the robots in the film comes out so much more defined, whether the words on the Japanese bot Noisy Boy, or the shades of grey on Atom’s metallic body. There are twice as many pixels in an IMAX presentation compared to a conventional digital presentation, so you can be sure of the enhanced resolution in every image frame. Besides that, the IMAX dual digital projection system works wonders for the boxing scenes in the film. Especially for the climactic fight where you have a super advanced bot Zeus going up against an old-school bot Atom, the use of dual projectors makes the action- like Zeus’ lightning quick punches- so much clearer.

You’ll also immediately notice that the colour and contrast in an IMAX presentation is just so much more vivid. In the case of ‘Real Steel’, there are generally two backdrops to the movie- the wide outdoors when the father-son duo of Charlie and Max are travelling from town to town for the matches, and the indoor boxing arenas where the bots duke it out. Whether it is outdoors or indoors, the IMAX format truly brings out the colour palette that director Shawn Levy has chosen for each type of backdrop- lush and warm for the former; and sharp and striking for the latter.

Once you get over the visual orgasm, you’ll start to realise that there’s something aurally amazing too. It isn’t immediately noticeable because all movies do take some time before they get to the action. But even in the quieter scenes, you’ll feel what IMAX’s laser-aligned digital sound is all about. In conventional theatres, the surround is non-discrete- in other words, even if the theatre is equipped with Dolby Digital 7.1 surround, you’ll hear the offscreen sounds around the theatre but they aren’t clearly placed. 

Compare that to an IMAX presentation, where every rustle, every whisper and every other little sound is so clearly heard that you feel as if you’re part of that scene unfolding right in front of you on the screen. We realised this when Charlie and Max were standing in the open fields one evening, and we could hear the insects calling, the leaves rustling, and the characters talking with impressive detail. The Proportional Point Source loudspeaker technology that IMAX uses also allows the sounds to be accurately placed in specific areas of the theatre so you’ll feel as if you’re part of the environment- both within the arena and outside in the fields.

That clarity is preserved outstandingly when it comes to the louder, noisier scenes- essentially when the action kicks in. An early fight between Charlie’s first bot Ambush and a bull boasts thunderous bass, but where that volume of sound would threaten to become one garbled cacophony in a conventional theatre, IMAX ensures that it is just as well-defined. Ditto for the bot to bot boxing scenes that come later on- every metal to metal contact is delivered ever more forcefully in IMAX, which makes for a more exhilarating experience anytime.

You can probably tell that we were nothing less than awed by the IMAX presentation, and even though we watched the same show twice, we’d like to say that the experience was truly something different in a conventional digital cinema versus an IMAX theatre. With IMAX, the action in ‘Real Steel’ is infinitely more thrilling, and as those who have watched the movie will probably agree, the poignancy of the father-son bonding tale combined with a true-blue underdog story even more affecting.

If you haven’t seen ‘Real Steel’, we recommend you give the IMAX format a try- because hand on heart, we guarantee you’ll enjoy it immensely. And for those who loved the movie (as we did), IMAX is reason enough for you to catch it once more.

Text by Gabriel Chong