inhumans imax

Let’s give credit where credit is due: it takes a certain amount of nerve for a television show to premiere its first two episodes on IMAX screens, and ABC’s upcoming Inhumans is going where only a few episodes of Game of Thrones have gone before. But when HBO’s flagship series showed episodes on the biggest movie screens in the world, it was already beloved and massively popular. Inhumans? Many comic book readers can’t even tell you a thing about the Inhumans.

So let’s tip our hat in the general direction of Marvel and ABC for ambition alone…and then wince as we watch this new Inhumans IMAX featurette and realize that there’s no way this will go well.

This featurette is at odds with itself. In one moment, the talking heads are describing a grand comic book epic filled with gorgeous footage that will demand the unrivaled presentation of an IMAX screen. And then we actually see the footage and it looks bland and blank and overly lit. You know, like an ABC show pushing against the boundaries of its budget.

While this series could work on the small screen, it’s hard to imagine this looking anything but cheap and campy when projected to the size of a building. There’s a reason even great classic genre shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files aren’t shown in theaters. They’re built to withstand the scrutiny of a small screen and a small screen alone.

Inhumans Trailer

TV and IMAX and the Blurred Lines of Entertainment

Granted, Game of Thrones came around and helped change the game with its massive budgets and epic action that rivals many modern movies. Smaller shows have also taken a turn toward the cinematic. I used to watch Breaking Bad in a theater every week (a communal experience that was a blast until AMC sent a cease and desist) and the series’ striking cinematography worked as well on the big screen as it did at home. So this is possible! Provided that the show in question is artistically ambitious enough to warrant the larger canvas, of course. And few network shows, even the most entertaining of them, have reached that level.

When we visited the set of Inhumans, IMAX Entertainment CEO Greg Foster tried to drive this point home, insisting that this show was being specifically designed for massive screens:

The lines between televisions and movies is blurring. In fact, I would posit they blurred. We have an incredible relationship with Marvel and have for a long time. We have an amazing relationship with Disney. Maybe there’s something to that. We started talking, and this came about. As you just saw, it’s being designed and customized to take advantage of the IMAX footprint, the IMAX scope. It’s a television show, not a movie, but it’s a television show with incredibly high production value that features a lot of things, futuristically, and in space – which lends itself to IMAX. It’s got this window, and the window happens to conspicuously be when we don’t have big studio movies. That’s the ultimate genesis of it.

So is it possible for Inhumans to actually wow us on the big screen? Look, even Marvel’s popular Netflix shows can’t escape their low-ish budget television look, setting their fight scenes in endless series of dark hallways. That’s just television being television – Game of Thrones remains the exception, not the rule. For all of its charms, ABC’s other Marvel TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., still looks like a network show. It looks like…well, Inhumans. Nothing in any of the trailers have shown off a show that belongs anywhere other than ABC on a weekday night, probably half-watched and enjoyed well-enough while you fold laundry. You know, like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Is Inhumans going to be a good show? Our own Ethan Anderton didn’t like what he saw at Comic-Con, and I’ve spoken people who watched the whole pilot and were less than impressed. Ethan even compared the show to cheap genre shows from the ’90s, which would pique my interest if it wasn’t being sold as an IMAX-worthy event:

Inhumans doesn’t look like anything special. The series feels like it’s trying to have a compelling power struggle, but it doesn’t come through in the performances seen in the footage from the pilot episode. It feels more in line with something like Hercules with Kevin Sorbo or Xena: Warrior Princess. Those shows have their fans for what they are, but one would have hoped that something a little less hokey would have come from Marvel Studios. Maybe the show just needs time to grow.

I’ll probably end up checking out Inhumans out of obligation, because how weird is it that we live in a time where the Inhumans are getting their own TV show? But I’ll probably wait until it premieres on ABC on September 29. I can’t help but imagine it playing to empty theaters when it begins its two-week IMAX run this Friday. And for those who do attend, I predict profound disappointment.

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