THE THEATER HAS ATTRACTED 107,800 PATRONS SINCE IT OPENED IN MARCH OF 2009.
Since I really enjoy the IMAX experience, I want to see the theater at the National Infantry Museum succeed. With that in mind, I decided to get a progress report on the first year in operation.
Ben Williams, Executive Director, National Infantry Foundation, in the lobby of the National Infantry Museum's IMAX Theater
National Infantry Foundation Executive Director Ben Williams, who is also managing the theater at this time, told me, “It has been moderately successful.” Attendence since the theater opened was 107,800. He went on to say that financially it broke even for the first year. Maybe that’s not so bad since the first year has been a learning experience.
When it first opened in March of 2009, along with the stunningly beautiful IMAX documentaries, a Hollywood feature movie was shown every day. The problem was they were second-run. They had already had long runs in Carmike Cinemas’ theaters in Columbus. Ben told me that the foundation decided that since theirs is a museum IMAX, and since first run movies are really expensive, anyway, they wouldn’t get into the first-run game.
However, they learned that some second-run films do well for them so they will continue to run them from time to time. It depends on the movie. During the Christmas season, Polar Express attracted large crowds. During its run it attracted 7,400 people , “Our best film so far.” A lot of folks were there the night we attended. Probably one of the reasons is that seeing it in a conventional theater is entertaining, but seeing that movie in 3-D on the huge IMAX screen with the theater’s incredible sound system is really spectacular. Also, the marketing was creative.
"Conductor" Owen Ditchfield punches 3-year-old Cliff Tankersley's ticket, as mom Ann looks on
In the theater lobby, volunteer Owen Ditchfield dressed in a train conductor’s uniform and delighted kids and their parents by punching their tickets. The foundation plans to do it again this Christmas. Why not? It’s a Wonderful Life draws audiences every Christmas when it’s run on TV. Some movies are evergreen.
Just started its run. Showtimes are at 1:30 and 6 p.m.
The theater just started running another Hollywood feature film, How to Train Your Dragon in IMAX 3-D. It has gotten really good reviews. Maybe the IMAX experience will do the same thing for it that it did for Polar Express. I plan to check it out to see.
While the full-length feature films will run from time to time, the theater’s mainstay will continue to be the shorter documentaries. When people come to visit the museum, they are more likely to be willing to take 45 minutes to see a documentary than sit through a movie that can last more than 90 minutes, Ben said.
Since that is the case, it is really fortunate that the documentaries that are shot with IMAX cameras are so well made. Stunning and spectacular are not hyperbole when applied to those docs. When “members” of the Lewis and Clark expedition shoot the rapids, you feel as though you’re in the canoe with them. Ben tells me, by the way, that the Lewis and Clark film is the museum’s most successful documentary.
However, Hubble 3-D could give it a run for the money. It’s pulling in good audiences. It deserves it. You’ve never seen the galaxies in a more spectacular fashion than through the Hubble space telescope images projected on the IMAX 5-story tall, 72-feet wide screen. It’s magical.
The theater’s newest doc is Fighter Pilot” Operation Red Flag. It follows a fighter jet pilot, the grandson of a World War II ace, as he participates in the most challenging combat training course for fighter pilots. We’ll probably feel like we have flown the course ourselves since a lot of it is shot from inside the cockpit for an F-16. I haven’t seen it yet, but I will.
Sometimes when I go there are only a few people in the theater and that concerns me, but, then I have to reflect on the fact that that also happens sometimes when I go to a Carmike Cinemas’ movie. I’ve been to the Peachtree Art Theater when I was the only person there. After watching some of the movie, I realized why. However, I’ve also seen decent crowds and really fine movies there. You can’t judge by just one visit.
When I went to the National Naval Air Museum at the Naval Air Station Pensacola IMAX, I saw a Blue Angels documentary, The Magic of Flight. Since that amazing Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron is stationed next door to the museum, what could be more appropriate?
Blue Angels in Diamond formation (Photo by Jon Sullivan)
And what could be more appropriate than an IMAX documentary about the United States Army Infantry at the National Infantry Museum? It would be a natural and should be highly successful if done well. The National Infantry Foundation folks know this and want one. The problem is cost. We’re talking millions. Actually, though, it would seem to me that it shouldn’t be hard to get someone to sponsor it. For instance, The Magic of Flight is sponsored by aircraft manufacturer and defense contractor McDonald Douglas, which merged with Boeing in 1997. Fighter Pilot, the doc we told you that is now playing at the Infantry Museum, is a Boeing sponsored film. You would think defense contractors would line up to sponsor an IMAX U.S. Army Infantry film. But, the sponsor certainly wouldn’t have to be a defense contractor.
As I said, I want the theater to be successful. One of the ways to help it is to go and enjoy it, which I have done and will continue to do, and I hope you join me. Or, even better yet, get up a group to go. I did that once. 20 of us saw a movie, and then had dinner at the Fife and Drum. It was fun.