Sunday, August 24. 1986.
FOR SIX MONTHS, VANCOUVER was cinematically unique. During the run of Expo 86, nowhere else could boast theatres equipped to show films in OMNIMAX, Showscan and IMAX 3-D.
Expo’s conclusion leaves us with a unique cinematic opportunity. Keeping all three theatres in operation would put our city on the cutting edge of modern motion picture presentation technology, increase our local filmgoing options and add immeasurably to Vancouver's desirability as a tourist destination.
Transitions, the film that introduced IMAX 3-D, was the hit of the fair. Directed by the National Film Board of Canada’s Colin Low, the 21-minute movie offered audiences state-of-the-art stereoscopic filmmaking, an incomparably sharp, eye-filling, depth image on one of the world’s largest theatre screens.
Presented daily in the Canada Pavilion, Transitions was the premiere attraction in the CN Theatre, the world’s first IMAX 3-D cinema. Designed as a permanent installation, the 500-seat house closes on Oct. 14  to make its own transition to life as part of the Canada Place convention centre and cruise ship facility.
The Canada Place Corporation is now in the process of choosing a contractor to operate and manage the theatre, which will then be reopened to the public. Among the options open to the new management is negotiating an extended run for the NFB’s 3-D stunner.
Discovery, (a.k.a. Zargon), filmed in Douglas Trumbull’s reality-enhancing Showscan process, played to packed houses in the B.C. Pavilion’s Discovery Theatre. Unlike IMAX, a process that increases the size of the image on the film, Showscan increases the speed of the camera and the film’s projection equipment.
The B.C. Pavilion is, of course, a permanent building and is currently scheduled to remain open until January 5, 1987. Discovery will continue to be screened daily, and plans call for the specially designed 500-seat theatre to be operated as Canada’s first regular Showscan cinema.
Like the IMAX 3-D shows, the OMNIMAX presentations in the Expo Centre dome end October 14. Unlike the B.C. Pavilion, the Expo Centre will be closed during demolition operations on the world’s fair site.
In common with Canada Place and its CN Theatre, B.C. Place is committed to reopening the familiar Expo “golf ball” under new management. Favoured is conversion of the building into a Science and Technology Centre. The OMNIMAX theatre will be run as a part of the centre, a formula that has proved successful in other communities, including Seattle.
Unlike Montreal’s Expo 67, our Expo 86 set off no revolution in filmmaking style. What it does leave behind, though, is a rich legacy of physical facilities that, properly used, could turn Vancouver into a Canadian filmgoers’ Mecca.
The above is a restored version of a Province feature by Michael Walsh originally published in 1986. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.
Afterword: Expo came to an end on Monday, October 13, 1986. Some called it a great success (despite closing its books with a $311-million deficit). Others say that its “world-class city” pretensions set in motion the endless cycle of municipal crises the city has faced in the past 30 years, including a 2016 real estate bubble of Biblical proportions. What we can say with certainty is that Vancouver did not become a Canadian filmgoers’ Mecca. Yes, filmmakers have made the city a major movie set, lured by the capable crews, scenic locations and a dollar that bottomed out at 72 cents U.S. in 1986. Today, Vancouver is the third largest television and feature film production centre in North America. The hoped-for Showscan Cinema in in the B.C. Pavilion’s Discovery Theatre never happened, though. The CN IMAX Theatre continued in operation until September 30, 2009, when Canada Place underwent renovations prior to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It then closed, leaving the OMIMAX Theatre at Science World the last standing Expo 86 film venue.
See also: Director Douglas Trumbull’s Showscan process was the subject of the sixth item in Reeling Back’s Expo 86 series. The film, mentioned in the Afterword to that earlier item, director Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, will premiere October 14, 2016, at the New York Film Festival, with a theatrical release scheduled for November 11. Changes to the commercial film exhibition business in Vancouver since the world’s fair are discussed in the Afterword to the 13th item in the series.
See also: The eight articles included in this, the fourth of four Expo 86 special reports, explore the pavilions of:
31: Expo 86 CP/GM (Bob Rogers)
32: Expo 86 Telecom Canada
33: Expo 86 Air Canada/CNR
34: Expo 86 Islam/Christianity