Where’s The Best Place To Sit In A Cinema?
I watched a preview last week John Wick 4 at the Cineworld Leicester Square IMAX in London. The film is fantastic, by the way – and if you enjoyed the first three, you’d hate to miss this latest installment. To quote Keanu Reaves’ great John Wick in the film, I would simply sum up my review with “yes…”. said Nuff.
If you’re wondering if it’s worth seeing at IMAX, it’s worth noting that while the film was shot in part with an Arri Alexa LF camera, which is part of the Filmed for IMAX program, the film however, isn’t formatted for IMAX – it’s a regular 2.29:1 aspect ratio throughout – probably because was’s preference to shoot anamorphic, as evidenced by the use of the Arri ALFA anamorphic lens. That’s not to say it doesn’t scrub well on IMAX – quite the opposite – it looks majestic. In fact, the size of the IMAX screen and auditorium in Leicester Square perfectly matched the grandeur of the locations and the balletic, unrelenting action.
However, there was a problem. Normally when I go to the cinema the seats are booked in advance but on this occasion as it was a preview I didn’t realize that while your name had to be on the list to get it, the seats did were awarded. First Served Basis. So, for the first time in many visits to the Leicester Square IMAX, I wasn’t able to sit in the central block and had to settle for a side seat. It was actually so far to the right that it went off the edges of the screen. And when you consider that the Leicester Square IMAX has the widest IMAX screen in the country, that’s saying something. I wasn’t very pleased but it was my fault so I had to settle for it. As the film began without any commercials or fanfare (unfortunately it wasn’t the official premiere, at the same venue where the cast attended a few days later), I looked to the left at the packed auditorium and felt like I was seeing myself a room full of people watching a movie instead of being in the room itself.
Sitting where I was I feared the worst, but luckily it wasn’t as bad as I feared. That doesn’t mean it was perfect. First, of course, since I was at an angle, the perspective of the frame looked a bit odd. Second, there were some color and contrast shifts that made it harder to see detail in the darker areas of the image. Third, there was the audio. IMAX doesn’t have a subwoofer but still creates a tremendous base as each speaker is full range and very large. I sat, shall we say, very close to one and of course its output dominated the events: I can practically still feel the pulsating rhythm of the club scene ringing in my ears.
I ended up having a great time at the cinema, but when the center block of a theater is full, I would prefer to reschedule and get a better seat if possible.
I’ve certainly had some worse experiences when it comes to sitting. When I booked a friend for The Northman last year, I was surprised to be seated in the back row on the left, near the rear speakers, and with a projection booth jutting out into the room to my right. I could just see the right edge of the screen. That was strange.
The rest of the bad experiences all come from the dreaded front row. It can be generally agreed that the cinema’s front row isn’t great. I’ve had a front row seat in an IMAX a couple of times and it’s not great. Don’t Look Up would be an appropriate film in this situation.
That then leads me to this eternal discussion – where is the best place to sit in the cinema? That answer depends on the nature of the room and your preferences. As we discovered, the front row of an IMAX isn’t great due to the huge screen. You’ll be craning your neck and looking left and right to get it all in – it’s not comfortable. Some go to the other extreme and get in the back row. Yes, you can see the whole screen, but you have to think about the sound.
If you’re in the back row of a movie theater, you’re too close to the rear speakers and can’t enjoy the tonal balance in the mix. Some say in the central block in the middle row – and while that may be optimal for sound in most IMAX theaters in my experience, that’s still too close to the screen. I prefer about two thirds from the front, bang in the middle. You want to be looking at the center of the screen, or directly above and still inside the sound bubble from the side and rear speakers. You’re also close enough for the screen to fill your peripheral vision.
However, applying my rule of two-thirds to the standard screen from the front, I find that due to the smaller screen this is too far back – so hitting the center front-to-back is the right way to go.
Some may want to stand at the end of an aisle to avoid noisy eaters or to be able to hop off easily if necessary, but that’s ideal for practical reasons only and too uncompromising in the audiovisual department. It’s only useful if you’re dealing with young children or have a weak bladder.
So, while John Wick 4 was good enough to appreciate even off the page in IMAX, I’d make sure you get in and book early if there’s a movie you want to see or you’ll be left in front — and although Reddit once claimed it’s the best seat to see the film before everyone else in the room, your neck will appreciate waiting a few more trillionths of a second and sitting a little further back.