OLDSMAR — Until Friday, there was no cinematic experience like it in North Pinellas.
If moviegoers wanted crystal-clear sound effects and larger-than-life images, they had to drive to downtown St. Petersburg, northwest Hillsborough County or other faraway locations.
Friday, the area's first IMAX theater opened to the public at the AMC Woodlands Square 20, 3128 Tampa Road, Oldsmar.
"It's a pretty prestigious thing," Mayor Jim Ronecker said. "To get an IMAX is really something special."
Nationwide, only 100 of AMC's 306 theaters are slated for the conversion. In December 2007, IMAX and AMC announced a joint agreement to upgrade AMC's top performing locations.
Two bay area sites made the cut: the AMC Veterans 24 in northwest Hillsborough in September 2008 and the AMC Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar on Friday. No other locations in Florida are on the list, AMC spokesman Justin Scott said.
The enhancements didn't require crews to move walls and ceilings or put in multi-story theaters.
"A lot of people think of IMAX as these large domes," Scott said. "That's very true. (But) IMAX has a new business line. Essentially what they're doing is taking Hollywood blockbusters and making them even bigger and better."
At the AMC 20 in Oldsmar, that means one auditorium — No. 11 — will be dedicated to IMAX films. The theater's 19 other screens will retain their layout. The idea is to give audiences more choices. People can watch a movie in a traditional auditorium or in IMAX — all in the same location.
"We have put in a screen that is 25 percent bigger than the screen" in traditional auditoriums, Scott said. "As a result of that, the first few rows need to come out." Before the conversion, No. 11 sat 470 people. Now, it will seat 400.
Additionally, customized speakers were installed, extra acoustic paneling was added and an IMAX digital projection system replaced the traditional projection booth.
Combined, the upgrades will make audiences feel as if they are immersed in movies.
At the Oldsmar debut, audiences were treated to a premiere of Disney's A Christmas Carol, starring Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge, in 3D.
"When you're looking at his nose, you can see the pores," Scott said. "It's unbelievable."
Friday's grand opening brought to two the number of Pinellas County theaters showing IMAX movies.
In May 2007, Muvico Baywalk 20 in St. Petersburg became the first theater in the county to offer IMAX projection.
Hillsborough County has three IMAX theaters: Channelside 10, the Museum of Science and Industry's IMAX Dome Theatre and the AMC 20.
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.