Washington fans will be able to see "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" on Imax.
Potter and his Hogwarts pals will be performing their magic on the Imax screen at the National Air and Space Museum as part of the Smithsonian's cautious expansion into the profitable world of Hollywood blockbusters.
The museum will show "Harry" for the holiday season, Dec. 16 to Jan. 2, at 5:30 p.m. Admission will be $10, only a few cents more than commercial theaters at the most expensive showing.
Until now, local followers of the Potter films had to be satisfied with a large but standard screen at movie houses such as the Loews Uptown or the megaplex. The King of Prussia Mall outside Philadelphia or the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton were the closest venues for the Imax version. The Imax's eight-story screen gives the viewer a sense of being right in the action, with close-ups of every detail.
In terms of selling tickets, showing "Harry" "does fall into the no-brainer category," said Toby Mensforth, the director of theaters for Smithsonian Business Ventures.
Since it opened three weeks ago, the fourth film in the "Harry Potter" series has taken in more than half a billion dollars worldwide in theaters. The Air and Space Museum has more foot traffic than any other museum in the world, with upward of 5.5 million visitors so far this year.
And since Imax theaters nationwide have started adding commercial releases to their usual menu of science and exploration films, those who like the large format have been asking local outlets if they are going to show the film. The Smithsonian has two Imax theaters on the Mall (the other is in the National Museum of Natural History) and one in Northern Virginia, at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport. "When the studio released 'Spider-Man' in Imax format, we got a huge amount of calls and people were disappointed we didn't book it. So we were anxious to deliver this to Washington," Mensforth said.
He said 1,000 tickets were sold in the few days since word of the screening was published on the Smithsonian Web site.
The theater has 487 seats and will only have one screening each day because of the 160-minute length of the film. Screaming will be allowed during the Quidditch match but no eating in the theater.
The Smithsonian has been testing whether screenings of commercial films, especially at the end of the day, would work. It has shown "Apollo 13" and "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" as well as "Michael Jordan: To the Max."
Before Thanksgiving, the Natural History Museum's Imax theater started showing the children's movie "The Polar Express," with Tom Hanks, at 5 and 7 p.m. "It did really well over Thanksgiving and it's still doing well during the lull," Mensforth said. That film will also run until Jan. 2.
The pilot project fits in with the Smithsonian's goal of strengthening its moneymaking operations and extending its franchise as a family entertainment destination and seeming a little more hip. But not too hip. "Imax has 'The Matrix' in its format. But it is an R-rated movie and we probably wouldn't do that but we actually haven't built all our criteria yet," Mensforth explained.
One challenge was the length of this Potter film, a copy of which in the Imax format weighs about 900 pounds. "The size of the film is enormous. Take our space films, 'To Fly' and the others -- they are the size of a coffee table. This is the size of a large, large conference table," Mensforth said.
In their arrangement with the distributor, Warner Bros., the Smithsonian will not make as much money per ticket as it does with its usual Imax movies.
"In this case approximately 35 to 40 percent will go back to the distributor," he said. On typical Imax fare, the distributor gets about 20 percent.