Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater Temporarily Closing To Upgrade To Premium Seating

  • Friday, October 20, 2023
  • Casey Phillips
photo by Tennessee Aquarium

Anyone who’s booked a flight in the last couple of decades has undoubtedly felt the literal squeeze of stuffed themselves into airplane seats that seem to crowd inexorably closer together.

The Tennessee Aquarium IMAX 3D Theater is about to buck that trend by installing new, larger seats to make the IMAX with Laser experience even more comfortable. From Oct. 23 to Nov. 2, the theater will be closed during the installation of vinyl seats with taller headrests, larger cup holders, rocking backs, and a 20% wider bottom.

The new seats will replace the cloth-covered cushions that were installed in 2010. Thanks to their larger real estate, the new seats will actually lower the theater’s capacity from 384 to 337. However, the premium cinematic experience makes up for the reduction in potential viewership, said Corey Cobb, the Aquarium’s director of IMAX operations.

“A seat that allows you a bit of recline and a headrest puts you in a better natural position to look at a screen as large as ours,” Mr. Cobb says of the theater’s six-story facility — the largest in Chattanooga with a footprint roughly three times that of the average Tennessee house.

“The trade-off in seating capacity is worth it so our guests have a better experience,” Mr. Cobb adds.

IMAX ticket prices will not increase due to these improvements, with tickets to 45-minute films remaining at $9.95 for adults and children.

This update brings more aspects of the theater-going experience in line with recent improvements to the theater’s sound and projection equipment. In early 2016, the theater underwent a comprehensive upgrade to a state-of-the-art IMAX with Laser audio/visual system featuring dual 4K laser projectors and a thunderously immersive, 12-channel speaker array.

Since opening in 1996, the IMAX 3D Theater has guided more than 9 million guests on tours of Earth’s most mysterious locations and introduced them to some of its most interesting and majestic residents. From the theater’s opening until 2010, theatergoers sat on much-less-welcoming perches measuring just 16 inches across — about two inches narrower than the airplane average — with a dearth of cushioning. The new seats are more than 50% wider and far more comfortable, Mr. Cobb says.

“We have pretty much the state-of-the-art with our digital technology, so this is another opportunity to make sure the rest of the guest experience is just as premium,” he says.

When the theater reopens on Friday, Nov. 3, it will host an all-new film, Deep Sky. This 2-D epic focuses on the harrowing launch of — and mind-bogglingly detailed first images returned by — the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

On Christmas Day 2021, the JWST launched from French Guiana and made its way to a stable orbit about 1 million miles from Earth. After surmounting more than 300 potentially mission-ending steps in its final deployment, the telescope unfolded its surprisingly delicate frame and massive sunshield. Then, it began training its 6.5-meter mirror and other sensitive viewing equipment on the cosmos, seeking evidence of phenomena that occurred in the universe’s infancy.

The James Webb’s activation secured its role as the planet’s premiere space-based viewing platform. For more than 30 years, that title belonged to the Hubble Space Telescope, which fans of giant-screen films may remember as the subject of the 2010 giant-screen favorite Hubble 3D.

That the Tennessee Aquarium’s upgraded theater will reopen by launching a spiritual successor to one of its most popular offerings is fitting, Mr. Cobb says.

“This, in a lot of ways, feels like a spiritual successor to Hubble,” he says. “It’s a beautiful film.

“The 2D views shown in Deep Sky create an incredibly immersive experience because you can see details of nebulae, exoplanets, and galaxies spread around the entire screen. It’s truly stunning.”

For more information about Deep Sky, visit tnaqua.org/imax/deep-sky

Additional theater information and services, including a screening schedule and advance ticket purchasing, is available at tnaqua.org/imax

Deep Sky
photo by IMAX
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