By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Sep 20, 2004 at 5:21 AM

{image1} Wisconsin's only IMAX theater, and downtown Milwaukee's only movie theater, revolutionized the cinema experience for area film buffs. Now, the Humphrey IMAX Dome Theater at the Milwaukee Public Museum has undergone a major upgrade including new seats, a state-of-the-art projection update and a screen treatment that will offer an image with unprecedented clarity and brightness. The upgrades were performed Sept. 13-16, and the theater reopened Friday, Sept. 17.

Why upgrade?

Not only to continue to remain on the cutting edge, but to offer first run movies, something many other IMAX theaters, including Chicago's, already do.

To do so, the theater's projector, engineered to manage huge, 3-inch wide IMAX film, received a state-of-the-art "Quick Turn Reel Unit." The new unit can handle up to 150 minutes of film, more than double the theater's previous 60-minute limit. That means the theater will be able to offer feature-length films without intermission. The unit also will eliminate rewind times between showings.

Keeping with the theater's family focus, Milwaukee Public Museum officials have committed to showing films with a rating no racier than PG-13. The theater will continue to offer traditional IMAX educational films for public and school audiences. OMC hears that the first "first run" movie (pending negotiations and release date) could be "Polar Express," directed by Robert Zemeckis ("Forrest Gump" and "Cast Away") and starring the voice of Tom Hanks.

"The IMAX format is an outstanding tool for education as well as entertainment," said Jeff Bass, Museum vice president of education, public programs and IMAX. "The ability to add feature-length films to our winning lineup of IMAX movies makes the museum a stronger downtown destination and further augments the museum experience."

The lens

The theater's projector has been fitted with a new lens engineered to project even light across the screen's domed surface. The lens will eliminate image degradation near the edges of the screen and compensate for "keystoning," a warping of the picture due to the contoured screen.


The lens now casts a picture brighter than the previous projector and a specialized screen cleaning process has further enhanced the brightness and resolution. Professional cleaners from Milwaukee's Purity Corp. have carefully removed dust and residue from both the inside and outside of the screen, a jigsaw puzzle of more than 400 powder-coated aluminum panels.

The panels are perforated with thousands of tiny holes that allow air to circulate through the theater, and allow the theater's 12,000 watts of stereo sound to reach audiences. The permeable screen must be cleaned inside and out and workers will use a huge lift to reach every inch of the inside of the six-story screen. They will "fly" over the outside of the screen suspended from climbing gear.

"The combination of the new lens and the ultra-clean screen will give us a picture that is sharper and brighter than anything people are used seeing at a movie theater," said Brad Barnes, theater operations manager.

New seats and food, too

Your eyes and ears aren't the only parts to be spoiled by the theater's new features. Your backside can now settle into plush seats. Eighty-four of the theater's 274 seats have been replaced during the September upgrade, with the remainder slated to be replaced in two phases over the next three years. The new seats are wider and boast 44-inch-high seatbacks.

Removable seats will allow for a more flexible seating arrangement to accommodate visitors with special needs. The aisle armrest and side panel can be removed allowing visitors in wheelchairs to slide into a seat, or entire seats can be removed to make room for visitors remaining in wheelchairs.

A concession stand also has been added so munching on candy and gulping down soda will become regular activites at the IMAX, just like your friendly-suburban multi-plex.

The Humphrey IMAX Dome Theater was built in 1996. It was the first IMAX theater in Wisconsin and remains the state's only giant screen theater.

The IMAX Web site is