'Star Trek Beyond': The Nail-Biting Rush to Get It to the New Wide-Screen Theaters

Star Trek Beyond Still 1 - Sofia Boutella and Simon Pegg- h 2016
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

As Star Trek Beyond opens in theaters today, a specially mastered version of the film will bow in 30 theaters worldwide that support Barco Escape, a new Cinerama-like theatrical format. It's the widest opening ever for the new theater experience from digital technology developer Barco, which uses three screens, mounted on the front and side walls of a movie theater, stitched together to create wider images.

But designing Beyond for Barco Escape and getting it to those theaters by opening day proved to be an ambitious and "crazy" experience on the part of the filmmakers. The results were shown for the first time in the U.S. on July 20 at Regal L.A. Live, a "Barco Innovation Center," which has an Escape auditorium. Attendees got a look at how Barco hopes to excite movie-goers as an enormous rendering of the Starship Enterprise soared across the three-screen configuration.

As first reported in The Hollywood Reporter in April, J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot inked a deal with Barco, with Bad Robot, Paramount and Skydance agreeing to release a special version of Beyond in Barco Escape. They agreed to that roughly 20 minutes of the film, which was already deep in postproduction at the time, would be extended to fill the three-screen format. However, that meant that in addition to working on an already tight production schedule, the filmmakers needed to develop and employ cutting-edge postproduction techniques to get the Escape version to theaters on time.

"It was crazy," admits Bad Robot producer and head of postproduction and visual effects Ben Rosenblatt, who also had to produce all other versions of the film including 2D (digital and film), 3D, Imax 2D, Imax 3D, laser projection, immersive sound — not to mention the many non-English language versions.

For Rosenblatt, the final push also involved hopping down to San Diego for his sister's wedding last Saturday. "I got back to Bad Robot around 3 p.m. on Sunday and we stayed up until 3 a.m. Tuesday," he tells THR

He also had to go to the Escape auditorium at Cinemark’s Howard Hughes Center for a quality control screening before delivering the digital cinema master to Deluxe, which mastered the Digital Cinema Package (the digital equivalent of a film print).

"I never finished anything this close to release,” Rosenblatt says, adding that he then slept for a few hours before headed back down to San Diego for Comic Con. “We finished Tuesday and it screened Wednesday in Dubai, which is 11 hours ahead of us. Had anything in the pipeline gone wrong, we wouldn’t have made it.”

About half of the Escape material is fully CG set-extensions created by Prime Focus in conjunction with Prime Focus-owned Double Negative, a leading VFX house on the film. The other half was created by Kelvin Optical, an in-house VFX group at Bad Robot, working with Base Effects in China. Beyond director Justin Lin and producer Abrams, who directed the first two films in the franchise reboot, led the creative side.

While Double Negative’s London and Vancouver office were working on the movie, they shared the same pipeline to move and share images with Prime Focus in Mumbai, which did the Escape extensions. “That was key, but [the challenge] was also the sheer volume of data, hundreds of terabytes of information,” says Merzin Tavaria, who served as Prime Focus’ creative director on the Escape version.

Rosenblatt says that a “critical component” was Bad Robot’s pair of Mistika finishing systems, which are made by Madrid-based manufacturer SGO. “We had to finish the whole movie again, involving all three screens of the movie with a lot of color matching. We were able to preview the experience with the full three-screen view and make sizing, sharpening and other decisions for a consistent look."

He gave kudos to SGO’s Peter Amies, who helped Bad Robot to develop the workflow, as well as complete the production. “SGO has been incredible as a partner to us, writing new software,” says Rosenblatt. “They are super nimble. We are talking about [adding standard features to Mistika] so that anyone can use it for Escape finishing.”

For Star Trek Beyond, the Escape footage is spread throughout the film (as a result it might feel like more than reported) and the side screens go to black when then are not in use. Will audiences see this as a gimmick or exciting new format? This remains to be seen, but Rosenblatt gives it a ”big thumbs up. Everyone on our side has been more and more excited about it. I think this is an exciting next step for the format. We're very interested in emerging technologies and new formats that offer innovation in the theatrical experience."

Following Beyond, the next big step for Escape may be Scott Waugh's upcoming 6 Below, which will be the first film shot for release entirely in Escape.

Escape debuted in 2014 with Twentieth Century Fox's The Maze Runner, which included the expanded tri-screen imagery in seven minutes of the film, at a handful of supported theaters. As part of a multi-year deal with Fox, that was followed by Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, which incorporated 20 minutes in the Escape format.

In 2015, Barco announced a development deal with Jerry Bruckheimer, who also sits on the Escape Advisory Board.

With 30 auditoriums ready for Star Trek Beyond, additional Escape installations are under contract and the company anticipates having about one hundred screens worldwide by the end of the year.