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AMC adding IMAX screen at Barton Creek Square cinema

Gary Dinges
gdinges@statesman.com

AMC Theatres is betting that Austin's big enough for two IMAX screens, charging ahead with plans to add one at its Barton Creek Square cineplex.

When completed — perhaps as soon as late this summer — it will join an IMAX theater that's been at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum since it opened a decade ago.

AMC plans to convert one of the cinema's 14 auditoriums, adding high-tech features that will allow a variety of films to be shown in 2-D and 3-D. A few rows of seats will be removed to improve sightlines.

Once started, the entire renovation process is expected to take two to three weeks, AMC spokesman Justin Scott said.

"We'll be offering that crystal-clear projection IMAX is known for," Scott said. "We'll go in there with IMAX and put in a new screen that will be about 25 percent larger, all new acoustic panels, and a new audio system that's custom-made for that theater."

The sound system, Scott promises, will "make your sternum rattle."

IMAX and AMC are in the midst of a nationwide building spree that's expected to add 15 to 25 new screens across the U.S. in 2011, giving the nation's No. 2 movie chain nearly 150 IMAX theaters by year's end.

Three new screens — in Chicago, Sarasota, Fla., and Washington, D.C. — are set to open May 20, the same day the latest installment in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series hits theaters.

Prices for IMAX tickets at Barton Creek Square 14 haven't been set yet, but the theater chain typically charges an additional $3 to $5 on top of the $10 ticket charge for films that start after 4 p.m. That is a little more than the surcharge for regular 3-D movies.

Despite the competition, officials at the Bullock museum, which shows a mix of IMAX documentaries and first-run Hollywood features, say they're fairly confident ticket sales won't take much of a hit.

"At six stories tall, we still have the biggest screen in Texas," said Timothy Dillon, director of marketing and media relations.

The Bullock will show the IMAX version of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" starting May 20.

The museum's ticket prices are also lower — adults pay $7 for documentaries and $12 for feature films — and though there's frequently a charge for downtown parking, Dillon says patrons can use the museum's 500-space garage for free after 6 p.m.

"We'll have to wait and see," Dillon said, "but I think people will prefer us."

gdinges@statesman.com; 912-5987