Remember when the word “extreme” used to describe things that were actually extreme? The “extreme sports” moniker made sense, because snowboarding, wingsuit flying and ascending dangerous ice slopes are not activities most docile homo sapiens would wish to engage in. But extreme go-karting? Extreme nutrition? Extreme couponing? Google suggested all of these options in its top picks based on a search for “extreme.” There’s even an extreme party decoration store in Miami.
At the risk of further delegitimizing a descriptor that’s already been bludgeoned into meaninglessness, Cinemark Theaters has unveiled “XD” screens, which stands for Extreme Digital, promising a larger and brighter image than other screens, complete with wraparound sound. The first XD auditorium in Boca Raton opened earlier this month at the Cinemark Palace (complementing XD screens already in place in the Davie and Boynton Beach Cinemark theaters) just a few weeks after Frank Theatres Cinebowl and Grille unveiled its own equivalent, Frank Digital Extreme, in its new Delray Beach location. When it has invaded the decidedly passive and un-extreme realm of moviegoing, it’s clear this term has jumped the shark, and I’m extremely tired of it.
That said, the actual experience of attending an XD movie at Cinemark is something to be celebrated. I’ve long decried digital projection as an inferior substitute to vanishing 35mm film, but it’s getting a lot better with advances like these.
I watched a movie yesterday in the Cinemark Palace’s Premiere Level XD screen, comfortably marooned in a reclining, oversized leather chair with its own mini table. The film in question was shot in a wider aspect ratio than the screen allowed, and the black bars on the top and bottom were not masked – but other than that, the image was crystal-clear and filmlike, and the sound was superlative; better yet, the Premiere Level perks all but eliminated ambient theater noises from other patrons. The wall-to-wall screen was impressively imposing, almost reaching IMAX-level expansion. Of course, expect to pay a little extra for the privileges; XD Premiere tickets run $19 for matinees and $23 for evening screenings.
Which is why you should do your homework before shelving out those hard-earned dollars for just any movie. It seems that only the biggest Hollywood blockbusters will receive the XD treatment, regardless of quality. I attended a screening of the jingoistic action film “Olympus Has Fallen,” about a siege on the White House by North Korean militants hostile toward the United States’ intervention in a fictional Korean Civil War. Following the requisite – and spectacularly rendered, I must admit – destruction of an iconic Washington, DC landmark, the action transfers to the president’s underground bunker, where his entire cabinet is being held hostage by the terrorists, whose demands may yield disasters consequences for the world as we know it.
The fact of North Korea’s recent nuclear saber-rattling gives “Olympus Has Fallen” a prophetic sheen, but it’s just about the only thing this movie gets right. During the lead-up to the 2008 election, I wrote an article for a Detroit paper on 10 of the most memorable fictional movie presidents; if I had to rewrite it today, Aaron Eckhart’s vanilla commander-in-chief in this movie would not make the cut. With his chiseled jaw and Mad Men physique, he’s more like a presidential action figure than a real-life leader; he always sounds like an actor playing the president, and never the Real McCoy. Morgan Freeman, an ex-fictional film president in 1998’s “Deep Impact,” is downsized here to the position of House Speaker, who is rushed into the role of acting president when Eckhart and his veep are captured.
It’s clear their relationship is driven by mutual respect and admiration, a laughably naïve arrangement considering today’s balkanized political landscape. In fact, all of the movie’s political figures are ideologically empty ciphers with no apparent party identification. There is no politics in a movie set almost entirely in the White House – just action-film bombast, grimacing wisecracks and a soaring score that oozes with the reverential majesty of the presidential office. Oh, how I miss “Lincoln.”
“Olympus Has Fallen” becomes little more than “Die Hard” in the Beltway, with the John McClane figure of subversive superman taken by Gerard Butler, as a former Secret Service agent who infiltrates the White House, a one-man army taking down a 40-person crew of terrorists. Then again, the entire script seems recycled from other movies; this is the kind of proudly mediocre drivel that exits the mind the moment after it enters, nothing more an agreeably violent entertainment for adolescents.
This also seems to be the case with “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” which opens today on the XD screen. Here’s hoping that once in a while, this beautiful new screening apparatus will house a movie for thinking people.