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Cinemas compete for best movie auditorium

Everybody wants to get into the act. The really big big-screen act, that is.

Brenden Theatres at the Palms has IMAX. Regal Cinemas at Aliante Station, Red Rock and Sunset Station have digital "IMAX Experience" locations. Galaxy Theatres’ Cannery multiplex has D-BOX, which adds motion-enhanced seats to the digital picture.

And this weekend, Cinemark’s South Point joins the fray, debuting its new Cinemark XD system in one auditorium.

XD stands for "Extreme Digital Cinema" — and that’s exactly what Cinemark officials promise to deliver, touting the system’s wall-to-wall screen, wrap-around sound and digital projection.

The Michael Jackson concert movie "This Is It" launches the system this weekend at the South Point in Las Vegas, one of 11 locations joining the chain’s three existing test sites before Thanksgiving.

Although Cinemark touts the XD’s floor-to-ceiling screen, "it isn’t just putting in a big screen," explains James Meredith, the circuit’s marketing vice president. "It’s a totally revamped auditorium."

That revamped auditorium includes a silver screen, which enables the theater to show 3-D attractions, plus a custom-designed sound system and reconfigured seating.

Overall, "it’s a completely new entertainment environment," Meredith says.

But not one requiring special-format prints.

Unlike IMAX and D-BOX attractions that require special formatting, with Cinemark XD "nothing has to be remastered or reformatted," he explains. Instead, "we just download" and project "an existing digital print."

That flexibility means the South Point can rotate XD attractions, adding big releases week to week, Meredith points out. (By contrast, IMAX versions of blockbuster movies are contracted to stay in theaters for several weeks, as when the IMAX 3-D debut of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" had to wait two weeks while "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" concluded its IMAX run.)

"With a lot of these" releases, "we’ll be the only theater showing them in a large format," Meredith says. "There’s a lot of flexibility there."

There’s also a lot of demand for the XD presentations at other Cinemark theaters, he adds.

At the chain’s test site in the Dallas suburb of West Plano, Texas (Cinemark is headquartered in Plano), some audience members "will drive 40 miles" to see movies in the XD auditorium, according to Meredith. "And they won’t see it unless it’s in the XD auditorium."

Audiences must pay for the privilege, however. As with IMAX and 3-D presentations, moviegoers will pay a premium — in the $3 range — for the enhanced presentation.

That hasn’t stopped audiences from embracing IMAX or D-BOX, however.

"We’re very, very happy" with D-BOX, which debuted at the Cannery in July, reports Galaxy president Rafe Cohen. "People like the experience."

And they’re willing to pay for it.

Regal’s three IMAX locations in Southern Nevada "have been very warmly received," according to Russ Nunley, vice president of marketing and communications. "The response and box-office business (have) surpassed our expectations."

As for Cinemark, there’s no decision yet regarding additional XD locations at another of the chain’s six Southern Nevada locations.

But "we’re always trying to offer something new and cutting-edge and innovative," Meredith says. "We’re always trying to give our customers different reasons to go to the theater."

Contact movie critic Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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