July 29th, 2015


Imax Geekery, or how to see Star Wars as nature intended...

Someone made the mistake of letting me have preview tickets to the latest Mission Impossible back in the summer... ostensibly in Imax.

I'm not sure what was more disappointing, the crappy film or the crappy film format.

See, I was a huge fan of the last one - I paid to see if four times in Imax, which is... a really expensive way to show your appreciation for something. And I mean, proper Imax at the BFI, not the crappy fake mini-Imax I saw Rogue Nation in (for free. I am seriously going to complain about a free preview format, go me). Ghost Protocol was one of the last true-Imax scene films (god bless you Brad Bird), before it went out of style again (I'm going to admit right now I still haven't seen the actual last film to use true Imax, Interstellar, for... reasons. I tried a couple of times but it never panned out, and I was getting tired of paying to see non-Imax films blown up disappointingly for crazy-expensive prices).

You can't really blame TDKR per se for pushing Imax out of style, especially after Chris Nolan did so much to push the format, but it did expose the weaknesses of using it for too high a percentage of scenes and compromising sound quality, because Imax cameras are loud (oh god Tom Hardy gargling that accent was bad enough already). True Imax is a... garnish, not a main course. And it works really, really well on looming shots of skyscrapers - hence the gorgeousness that is TDK and Ghost Protocol. I'd also allow the plane scene from the start of TDKR because some shots made me feel genuinely dizzy (that's basically the sign of well-used Imax, when the vertigo kicks in)... plus the start of ST Into Darkness. These last two were both designed as deliberate Imax teasers, though - the first ten minutes of each film, initially shown as exclusive snippets in Imax screens before release as a showcase for the format; and it shows.

Much as it was nice to see it used on THG: Catching Fire, there really wasn't enough vertical space in the scenes to make it worthwhile, and I notice it hasn't been used again in any of the sequels. Which is almost a shame, considering one of the visuals Mockingjay Part 1 did have going for it was a notable use of vertical space down in the bunkers. But it's expensive, and awkward to use, and it seemed like THG needed no help making any more money, considering they could sell out stretched digital Imax screenings of their regularly shot version easily anyhoo (and they actually got an Imax release this year after part 1 got caught in the crossfire of Imax scheduling trying to fit in both Interstellar and The Hobbit BOTFA). Interestingly they also dropped their 3D distribution plans for Mockingjay Part 2 in the US, and I'm not sure anyone was exactly devastated at that.  Again, they have Imax - they didn't necessarily need the 3D charge to still make oodles of money (although.. not as much money as they could have. It's not nearly traumatic enough to be a great adaptation of the final book, and kind of a buzz kill lack of catharsis for repeat viewings).

Although, this year THG:Mpt2 kind of released early enough to try and avoid competing with the only film shooting any scenes in Imax at all: The Force Awakens. There were pretty much worse than TDKR levels of booking carnage trying to snaffle BFI Imax tickets for that one (which can then be blamed on the Odeon site booking process. Fun times.) And I opted out completely, because dear god why is 3D now the standard option for abso-bloody-lutely every single big Imax release these days (short answer: money. But still.)

What I did just find tickets for was what seems to be a bizarrely well-kept secret - the Science Museum, bless 'em, have the only 2D 70mm Imax screening in Europe (and yes, that's a true Imax screening on a fullsize screen in the fricking format the film was originally shot in) several weeks after the totally pointless shark chum frenzy of scrambling to get tickets for kind of ordinary multiplex screenings. My Imax geekery is kind of waning these days as true-Imax drops off and 3D digital projection is the standard, but this.. is kind of exciting.