Wednesday, February 2, 2011

IMAX, the movie experience: New tech & Syracuse's own IMAX theater at the MOST!

From black and white to color, 2D to 3, widescreen to IMAX: the film industry is constantly on the look out for new ways to show the show.

For Spielberg's 2002 hit Minority Report starring Tom Cruise and Max von Sydow - a futuristic thriller set in 2054, the sharp director pooled scientists' ideas about what life would be like fifty years from now.  In addition to constant identification via eye-scans, he casually introduces the idea of full-3D film: poignantly portraying via several light sources, a "light pane" image of Cruise's wife and son, conjuring up their physical presences in the futuristic apartment living room.  Filmmakers could certainly put audiences through some shock and awe if that were possible in the box office today!  Imagine Halloween's Michael Myers showing up in the theater - row 3, seat 2!

Recently, as one effort to combat film pirating, the box office has raked in mega-millions for their 3-D presentations of everything from Toy Story to Tron and the new Narnia (Voyage of the Dawn Treader).  They can't pirate that on the street.

IMAX theaters have in the past decade almost literally taken movie-goers to places they've never been: whether it be inside beaver lodges in remote Alaskan lakes, under avalanches on Mount Everest, or through asteroid fields of STAR WARS galaxies "far, far away."  By specially cutting film to fill ginormous concave screens, IMAX theaters surround the peripheral vision, creating the sensation that one is actually there.

Combine that with 3D glasses and we have an incredible convergence: asteriods from another galaxy heading at Mach 10 towards the audience's head!

There's a (rather terrible) multi-media docu-drama up at Niagara Falls narrating Indian legends surrounding the natural wonder. As the shot pans to "fly over" the water, hoses spray mist at the audience, temporarily distracting one from the terrible screenplay in an effort to fool the body into thinking it is actually over the river.

George Lucas's Alien Encounter show at Disney World is a different story.  Through simple light, sound, and water-and-air spraying techniques, one actually feels as if a dangerous alien were lose in the room.  After a shrill "hiss," a spout sprays "saliva" at the neck while the audience is strapped into their seats - a freak-out experience like no other.  (They should really make bathroom usage mandatory before that show.)  A favorite thrill moment is the man "getting killed" above the crowd: first the "scream" as he was "ripped limb from limb" then his "blood" fell from the catwalk above in the dark.  Pretty darn real and lots of fun!

This year, Syracuse hosts Toy Story 3 (which won Best Animated Film at last week's Golden Globes) at the city's own Milton J. Rubenstein MOST (Museum of Science and Technology)'s Bristol IMAX Omnitheater.  A fantastic experience!

Most went to see the film not long after its June release, and most people were very satisfied that it crowned the innovative CGI trilogy which broke the mold and made each of its sequels better than the last.  The phenomenal story, animation, and character acting alone could have earned it the #1 money-making spot it got this year, but the fact that it opened also in 3D, IMAX, and IMAX 3D with tickets averaging near $13 didn't hurt either.  Filmmakers and viewers both know that everything from a cheap pirated copy that comes out two weeks early to the Blue-Ray home theater experience cannot beat a 100-foot pig spaceship exploding in 3D right in your face!

The thing that TY3 lacks in the IMAX is the fact that it doesn't seem made for that medium.  One finds the need to strain noticing details on opposite peripherals at the same time (brain cramp!).  Seems the original design was for the phenomenal 3D theater experience that it was, while the stretch to IMAX remains an arguable bridge too far.  That notwithstanding, it's still well worth the cash!

Originally opening in Toronto, expensive IMAX theaters have since appeared in nearly every major city.  While Syracuse still doesn't have a conventional IMAX 3D theater to show the latest releases (come on Regal!), Syracusans are proud to have had The MOST Museum's Omni-Dome theater  (one of only 30 in the US) right downtown for the past ten years in the beautiful and historic Armory Square - a favorite place to hang out at any hour of the day.

So hold on to your cookies and look out for flying superheros battling super-sonic RPG's all across the seats in a theater near you! With creative juices bubbling motivated by the recent economic decline and the specific beating the media industry has taken in the last decade of pirating, the ardent moviegoer can only hope for an epic comeback, and buckle up for a wild ride!

(This article was originally published by the author on

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