I have been lucky (read: obsessed) enough to have seen Interstellar in four formats: at the cinema (twice), IMAX, on Blu-ray and a special screening in the Royal Albert Hall featuring a live playing of the score, and a talk from the filmmakers. This insanity, I believe, has allowed me to compare the pros and cons of the various ways we can view films to see whether going the extra distance or spending that bit more money is really worth it.
Ah, the IMAX. Is it merely just a bigger cinema screen? Although many of the pros of going to an IMAX showing are the same as going to the cinema, IMAX offers some unique differences. The screen isn’t simply ‘bigger’, its HUGE. As in it completely envelops everything you can see, with the film entirely filling your vision. This automatically makes it an much more immersive experience as there is nothing to catch your eye to remind you that you are, in fact, in a cinema, and not hurtling through space. The slight curve of the screen also ensures that the film encases your line of sight. If you see a film shot in IMAX (as parts of Interstellar were), these scenes will fill the entirety of the screen, creating an amazing view. The exterior space scenes filmed in IMAX really made it feel as though you were travelling through a black hole, for instance, creating the illusion of movement. The incredible surround sound features in IMAX cinemas also helps to maintain a more immersive experience as you can feel the your seat vibrating. And, for the record, I never had any trouble with the sound in Interstellar, or understanding the dialogue, in any of the mediums I have seen it on. The heightened sound and sheer size of the screen makes it a spectacle in itself and will have you marveling simply at the dimensions of the projection in front of you.
Here, however, lies one of the potential downsides to an IMAX screening, especially your first one. The formidable screen size can also serve as a distraction as you will be so focused on it, that you will be less immersed in the story on screen.
I do think your enjoyment of going to an IMAX showing is quite dependent on where you sit. I would advise sitting somewhere within the central area, as the slight curvature of the screen will slightly distort your view if you sit near the periphery. I would also advise sitting at least one third up for the best view, or else the size of the screen may result in you craning your neck for a couple of hours.
Going to see something in IMAX will also be, for most people, much more of an event. Not simply because its something you are less likely to visit than the cinema, but because of the greater grandeur of the event. There is likely to only be one screen at the venue you are at making it feel more like a night out at the theatre as you wait all together to be ushered in to see one film, rather than everyone wondering around in a multiplex. Plus, there might even be extra posters and décor around. For example, at the BFI IMAX they had a model of Interstellar’s ranger craft that added just a little extra something. The film is also often introduced too.
IMAX can absolutely be worth the money for the right film. If the film is a visual epic, with beautiful cinematography or breath-taking sights, it is absolutely worth it, and even warrants a larger screen. Especially for films made in IMAX, such as some great scientific documentaries (you can see at museum IMAXs). IMAX enhances an experience, so there has to be potential there to enhance. For a film focused more of dialogue, jokes or snappy action, the extra money probably isn’t worth it.