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The giant-screen Imax movie telling the story of a climbing disaster that killed eight people on Mount Everest in 1996 put most viewers as close to the mountain as desired.

Grossing more than $62 million since its March 1998 opening, the film-with its shuddering six-channel sound and chillingly realistic visual effects shown on screens eight stories high-also helped push Imax Corp. to a new level of success as the number of theaters showing such giant-screen films multiplied.

Previously little known outside of museums, Imax theaters are now mushrooming worldwide. The credit goes to Richard Gelfond, 43, and Bradley Wechsler, 43, who bought the company in 1994 and became its co-chairmen-CEOs.

Imax makes money by licensing the technology for giant-screen productions using 70mm film. The two men have convinced theater owners including Sony Corp., Loews Cineplex Corp. and Viacom's Famous Players to invest millions in Imax theaters-each costs $8 million to build. The effort turns on their ability to persuade theater operators to incorporate the Imax name into its big-screen theaters concept.

Imax's profits were flat in 1998 as it shouldered investments in future projects, but its U.S. brand awareness has soared from less than 33% in 1994 to 78% last year, creating a marketing challenge to maintain high standards while expanding the concept to the mass market.

"We both take a very hands-on approach to deciding what Imax means, what it is and what it is not," Mr. Gelfond says. "In this cynical, overhyped entertainment world there are very few things that have to be seen to be believed, and one of

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