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Rangos Omnimax Theater is taking final bow with 31-hour movie marathon

| Monday, July 3, 2017, 11:51 a.m.
This still shows a scene from 'D-Day: Normandy 1944,' a large-scale documentary narrated by Tom Brokaw. The film was shown at the Carnegie Science Center's Omnimax theater June 6, 2016, the 72nd anniversary of D-Day.
“Animalopolis” open Jan. 2 in the Rangos Omnimax Theater at Carnegie Science Center, North Shore.
MacGillivray Freeman Films
The Colorado River carves out the Grand Canyon in Arizona in the IMAX film 'National Park Adventures.'
A still from the new IMAX film “D-Day: Normandy 1944”
A scene from the new IMAX movie 'Jerusalem.
SK Films
Monarch butterflies congregate together in their winter sanctuary near the border of Mexico’s states of Michoacan and Mexico in this scene from the new IMAX movie, 'Flight of the Butterflies.'

All good things must come to an end, especially in this age of lightning-speed technological advances.

The Rangos Omnimax Theater in the Carnegie Science Center has had a 26-year run, but now, it too is going the way of land lines and floppy disks.

This fall, a new Rangos Giant Screen Cinema will take its place, featuring 4K laser digital projection technology on a curved 70-foot screen, Dolby Atmos sound and new seating. The reconfiguration will cost $3.7 million.

The Omnimax will get a suitable send-off with a movie marathon beginning at 10 a.m. July 8 and running nonstop through 5 p.m. July 9.

Following the marathon, the theater will go dark for the upgrades.

"Twenty-six years ago, (the Omnimax) was the best technology available," says Connie George, the science center's senior director of marketing and community relations. "Now, with new 3-D capability and advancements in sound, the booming sound that you can feel, the expectations have changed.

"People have come to expect the latest in technology from us because we are a science center. And now, in 2017, we are going to meet that expectation again."

An upgrade was needed, George says, because few movies are made nowadays on 70-millimeter film, for which the Omnimax dome projection system was made.

"They're making fewer 70-millimeter films now, so we had such a narrow list of films to choose from," George says. "With the new theater, we'll be ahead of our time, but in five years, this is where the industry will be.

"We'll be able to show the big Hollywood movies with really cool special effects, like 'Justice League' and 'Star Wars,''' she says.

Giant screen technology has been around for a long time, says Kelly Germain, communications and membership director of the North Carolina-based Giant Screen Cinema Association.

"The IMAX industry started in 1967, and the first film premiered in Osaka (Japan) in 1970. The first permanent theater opened in 1971 in Toronto," she says.

In the Pittsburgh area, the AMC Loews Waterfront 22 and Cinemark Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills Mall have IMAX screens.

"I think the appeal is that it is such an immersive experience. You feel that you are right there," Germain adds. "It takes you places you probably wouldn't be able to go in real life. I mean, who of us will get to go to outer space?"

"There were fewer than 50 (Omnimax theaters) when ours opened," George says. "It was the only truly immersive theater experience at that time.

"Anyone who lived in Pittsburgh went to the Omnimax," she adds. "Now, since we announced the marathon, people who hadn't been in years have been saying, 'Oh, I need to go again before it's over.'"

"The first film shown in the Rangos Omnimax Theater was 'To the Limit,' a film examining what happens in a human body during high stress activities like extreme sports," says Jill Rible, marketing communications director at the science center.

That film also will bring the theater's history full circle, when it concludes the marathon with a final showing at 4 p.m. July 9.

Another popular, and often-shown, film is "Pittsburgh's Big Picture," which premiered in January 2001. The 10-minute short will open the marathon and will be the penultimate offering, running again prior to "To the Limit."

Made by local filmmakers with producer and director Peter Argentine of Argentine Productions, it "captures the city's stunning visual beauty, rich ethnic and cultural heritage, drama of steelmaking and spectacular natural resources," Rible says.

"Numerous special camera mounts were created for the IMAX camera to capture unique perspectives including from the driver's seat of a high speed Formula 1 race boat; the breathtaking heights of the Pittsburgh Plunge; close-up to a molten cauldron of steel, and plunging over a waterfall in a kayak," she says. "The story is told with visuals, music and sound, and includes a brief cameo by our favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers."

Over the years, the favorite of science center theater-goers was "Everest," George says.

The 40-minute 1996 film chronicles a successful ascent by a team of climbers just days after others had died. It also describes how Everest was formed and continues to evolve, how high altitude challenges a climber's physical and mental capabilities, and showcases Sherpa culture.

"We've found that, of our overall visitation, 30 percent of our guests have added the Omnimax to their experience," George says. "People like the experience of being inside the movie and really being a part of it."

The movie schedule for the marathon is:

July 8:

10:15 a.m.: "Pittsburgh's Big Picture" (10 minute short)

11 a.m.: "Dream Big"

12:30 p.m.: "Animalopolis"

2 p.m.: "Flight of the Butterflies"

3:30 p.m.: "Jerusalem"

5 p.m.: "D-Day"

6 p.m.: "Dream Big:

8 p.m.: "Yellowstone"

9 p.m.: "Mysteries of the Unseen World"

11 p.m.: "National Parks Adventure"

July 9:

12:30 a.m.: "Tornado Alley"

2 a.m.: "Coral Reef"

3:30 a.m.: "Special Effects"

5 a.m.: "Lewis and Clark"

6:30 a.m.: Forces of Nature

8 a.m.: "Sea Monsters"

9:30 a.m.: "Hurricane on the Bayou"

11 a.m.: "Mysteries of the Nile"

12:30 p.m.: "Robots"

2 p.m.: "Dream Big"

3:30 p.m.: "Pittsburgh's Big Picture" (10 minute short)

4 p.m.: "To the Limit"

This schedule is subject to change.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750, or via Twitter @shirley_trib.

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