Seeing Stars: Hollywood Movie Palaces..

There are currently four IMAX theatres in the greater L.A./O.C. area.

One is among the museums in Exposition Park, at the California Science Center. Another is in Orange County, at the Entertainment Center at Irvine Spectrum. A third is up at Universal CityWalk. And the most recent IMAX is at the Howard Hughes Promenade.


The IMAX experience began in 1970, and it has now grown to over 170 IMAX theatres worldwide.

The unique IMAX ("Image Maximization") process uses the largest film frame in motion picture history (ten times larger than the standard 35mm frame). The film is projected horizontally, at 24 frames per second on an enormous movie screen that measures some six stories high and 70 feet wide. So despite the screen's gigantic size, the projected images remain crystal-clear

The system uses the biggest film projector ever built, the size of a Volkswagon beetle, weighing in at 1,500 pounds. The giant reels of film alone weigh over a thousand pounds each, and the huge projector uses a 4,500 watt bulb.

The projected image virtually engulfs the audience. Unable to take in everything on the huge screen at once, you find yourself actually looking up and down to see the rest of the picture! Yet there is none of the distortion normally associated with sitting "too close" to a regular movie screen. Together with wonderful six-channel surround-sound, IMAX creates an exciting cinema environment that's as close to "being there " as you can get while still seated in a movie theatre. The sound comes from an 8,000 watt stereo system (compared with the 100 watts of the usual home stereo), which uses compact disks synchronized to the picture by computer.

From the inside, IMAX theatres appear to be fairly small auditoriums, with only about 400 comfortable seats, but with (Viewed from the outside, the building's towering size is readily apparent.)

The California Science Center
in Exposition Park, 700 State Drive,
Los Angeles, CA / (213) 744-2014

The very first IMAX theatre in Southern California opened in 1984. It was located in Exposition Park, a free-standing building next to the Museum of Science & Industry (what is now the California Science Center.) It offers 471 tiered seats.

They alternate three or four different IMAX movies each day at this theatre, showing a different movie each hour (most of these movies last about 40 minutes). Films have included "The Grand Canyon," "Blue Planet," "Amazon," "Alaska: Spirit of the Wild," "The Fires of Kuwait," "Whales," "Special Effects," "Mountain Gorilla," "Tropical Rainforest," "Beavers," "To the Limit," and even "The Rolling Stones Tour" (and you thought Mick's lips were big on the normal movie screen!)

Unfortunately, most IMAX films (especially those shown at museums) tend to be educational documentaries, albeit done with flair. Unlike other IMAX theatres, this original theatre at Exposition Park's museum does not offer commercial films, only educational films in the IMAX format.

The "Grand Canyon" is a good example of what to expect from an IMAX film. Mixing history and travelogue, the film opens with fictional scenes set in 2,000 B.C., depicting the lives of the first Native Americans who called the canyon home, and the movie ends up soaring with modern hang-gliders through the glorious cliffs of the awe-inspiring Arizona gorge. Along the way, there are exciting shots of adventurers shooting white-water rapids, more historical scenes (as Spanish explorers discover the Canyon) and several breathtaking fly-overs.

Exposition Park is home not only to to the IMAX theatre, but also to the California Science Center, the Museum of Natural History, the Olympic Coliseum, a beautiful rose garden and the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

In 1998, the original IMAX theatre at Exposition Park closed, but they opened a brand new IMAX theatre as part of the new California Science Center. It's a spectacular new setting, with the entrance to the theatre via a courtyard with features a a fog-fountain and a cascade of golden balls suspended from a purple skylight overhead. Along the way, they upgraded the IMAX theatre to is 3-D. But it wasn't the first...

Getting there:  Exposition Park: The California Science Center complex is located in the northeast region of Exposition Park, south of U.S.C., north of the Coliseum, and east of the Museum of Natural History - near the northeast corner of Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa Street. / From Hollywood & Vine, take Hollywood Boulevard east (about half a mile) to the Hollywood (101) Freeway. Take the Hollywood Freeway south (about five miles) to the Harbor Freeway. Take the Harbor (110) Freeway south (about three more miles) to the Exposition Boulevard exit. Go west on Exposition, and the park will be on your left (south) side.

For a schedule of what IMAX movies are showing at the museum, go to]

[For more information about the California Science Center and its IMAX theatre,
you can access their official website at:]

The Entertainment Center at Irvine Spectrum
Alton Parkway & Irvine Center Drive,
Irvine, CA. / (714) 832-4629

The west coast's first 3-D (three-dimension) IMAX theatre opened in 1996 at the Edwards 21 Megaplex, located at new Entertainment Center at the Irvine Spectrum center (about ten miles southeast of Disneyland, in Orange County.)

In 3-D IMAX theatres, movie-goers don special electronic headsets to watch 3-D films, which are astonishingly realistic. Forget any thought you might have of those old 3-D systems where audience wore red & green sunglasses. This is the most spectacular 3-D system I have ever experienced, and it adds yet another dimension to the already-dazzling IMAX format, with its 6 1/2-story high screen. The theatre offers 580 seats, making it the largest of the IMAX theatres.

Some of the 3-D films that were shown here early on included "T-Rex," "Into The Deep," "The Living Sea," "Four Million Houseguests," and "Across The Sea of Time."

While some of the movies themselves can be a bit boring (many are more like PBS travelogues than commercial movies), the 3-D special effects are nothing short of breathtaking, and you shouldn't miss the experience.

As the format loses its novelty, they are turning more and more to traditional Hollywood films, adding 3-D IMAX effects to movies such as "The Polar Express", "Superman Returns" and "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (which set a record for the most money ever earned by an IMAX film).

Be careful, though, because the IMAX Theatres at both the Irvine Spectrum and at Exposition Park also show regular 2-D IMAX movies. They often alternate 2-D and 3-D films throughout the day. So you'll want to make sure that the movie you go to see is, in fact, a 3-D film.

Getting there: Irvine: You'll find this new 3-D Imax near where the Santa Ana (5) Freeway meets the San Diego (405) Freeway, at the corner of Alton Parkway & Irvine Center Drive, in Irvine. Parking is free in the center's big parking lots. For more information about the Irvine IMAX 3-D, phone (949) 450-4920.

[For for information about the Irvine Spectrum Edwards 3-D IMAX, you can access their official website at:]

at The Universal CityWalk
outside of Universal Studios Hollywood,
Universal City, CA. / (818) 508-0588

A newer 3-D IMAX theatre opened at the Universal CityWalk (outside of Universal Studios Hollywood theme park) in 2000, as part of the existing AMC Cineplex Universal multiplex, and part of a major expansion of that unique shopping area.

The CityWalk IMAX screen measures 81 feet by 59 feet, not quite as large as the one at the California Science Center (one of the largest screens in the country) which is 90 feet wide and 68 feet tall, nor as large as the Irvine IMAX, which measures 90' x 65'. But it's still huge. It offers 422 seats for regular IMAX, and 331 seats for 3-D IMAX.

Admission prices (as of April 2000) are $9.00 for adults, $6.00 for seniors, and $5.50 for kids. First showings tend to start around 10:30 AM, while last showings are usually around 10:30 PM. Parking at CityWalk is expensive (around $10), but they sometimes offer refunds to theatre-goers. Phone the theatres for more info, at (818) 508-0588.

[For more information about the Universal Studios IMAX, you can access their official website at:]

The Bridge 3-D IMAX Theatre: Cinema de Lux
at The Promenade at Howard Hughes Center
6081 Center Drive, Los Angeles, CA. / (310) 568-3375

The Bridge opened in 2002, at the new Howard Hughes Promenade,

This is the most upscale setting of all the IMAX theatres. It is part of a 106,000 square-foot complex that offers 17 screens, stadium style seating, concierge services, “directors’ hall” auditoriums with wide leather seats, assigned seating, gourmet snacks, and even a cocktail lounge.

Getting there: The Howard Hughes Promenade is hidden away in a triangle formed by Sepulveda Blvd, Howard Hughes Parkway and the San Diego (405) Freeway. That's just west of the San Diego (405) Freeway, and just south of the Marina del Rey Freeway, between Westchester and Culver City. From the northbound 405, just take the Howard Hughes Parkway exit. then turn right to the theatres.

[For more information about The Bridge 3-D IMAX (now called "Rave Cinemas"), you can access their official website at:  or

"The Movie Experience"
at The Anaheim GardenWalk
321 W. Katella Ave
(across Harbor Boulevard from Disneyland)
Anaheim, CA / (714) 635-7410

In the Summer of 2008, a brand new shopping/dining complex opened across the street from (east of) Disneyland - giving some competition to Disney's own Downtown Disney shopping district.

The new center is called Anaheim GardenWalk, and features the usual mix of shops, restaurants and entertaiment - but it also includes a 14-screen theater with an IMAX screen (called "The Movie Experience).

So, the next time you're near Disneyland, there will be a convenient IMAX theatre just around the corner, on the second level of the GardenWalk center.

(Considering that the nearest IMAX theatre is miles away in Irvine, it should do well here...)

[ You can find the official website for GardenWalk at ]

3D IMAX at Del Amo
AMC 18 Theates - at Del Amo Fashion Center
in the new outdoor "LifeStyle wing", between
Carson Street & Torrance Blvd (south of Hawthorne Blvd)
Torrance, CA / (310) 289-4262

This new 3D IMAX theatre opened in late 2008, serving the surrounding South Bay communities of Torrance, Redondo Beach, Palos Verdes, Rolling Hills, Lomita, San Pedro and Carson.

At one time, the Del Amo mall ranked as the largest enclosed mall in the world. And the mall has something of a Hollywood history of its own.  Nicolas Cage's breakthrough movie, "Valley Girl", was filmed in the mall's food court, as were scenes from Quentin Tarintino's "Jackie Brown". And the dark comedy "Bad Santa" was filmed in a former Montgomery Ward store and part of the adjacent mall, both of which used to exist where the new IMAX theatre stands today.

The addition of the Del Amo IMAX was part of a boom which saw IMAX theatres flower at many AMC & Edwards cineplexes across LA/OC, including those at South Gate, Arcadia, Burbank, Long Beach and Century City. In fact, the IMAX experience is now becoming so commonplace that I think I can now safely stop listing new ones...

For more information about IMAX technology in general, you can access the official IMAX website at:

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