Spectacle is overrated. So is action. So is scope.
I saw Contagion in IMAX this weekend and the experience was eye-opening. Awareness raising. Possibly life-changing.
I love the IMAX format. I’ll see any underwater documentary they’ll put out in the format and most others that aren’t about human beings. I grow tired of the format being used as a pulpit for human drama. There’s already too much of that on the small screen. The large screen has been the source of many a rewarding afternoon with my daughter as we’ve sat enraptured by the impossibly large images on the screen and the fully immersive nature of it all. It brought me back to visits to the planetarium with my father as a youth. IMAX truly is special and like most unique boutique formats its only chance for enduring success is to adapt and evolve. The salvation was event movies. Seeing the big set pieces come to life in IMAX is exciting and somehow a lot less polarizing than 3-D. It’s a great way to see movies and with the ticket prices being what they are, every little bit done to distance the experience from home viewing is welcome.
Contagion changed the game for me.
IMAX isn’t made for event films. I mean, they work great on the format, but…
IMAX is made for cerebral dramas and art films. For the meaty projects built around character and dialogue and subtle use of the frame. Watching Contagion opened receptors I didn’t know existed. We’re trained to watch movies for action and movement and we celebrate inventive camera work and creative blocking and interesting motion within the frame but rarely does the mundane register. What isn’t moving. What doesn’t call attention to itself. Steven Soderbergh is one of our more gifted storytellers and there are moments within his film where he is absolutely manipulating our eyes and having fun with his medium but what surprised me about the experience wasn’t necessarily his magic but rather the effectiveness of traditionally Non-IMAX material within the format. Words seemed to have more weight. Stillness seemed alive. The marriage of visuals and sound transported me.
That doesn’t happen much anymore.
Transformers: The Dark of the Moon wasn’t transportive for me. It wasn’t escapism. It was shit that happened in front of me. I wasn’t entertained or engaged. I was Malcolm McDowell pinned captive with my eyes pried open and subjected to a barrage of images. Watching Contagion on IMAX, the tension was amplified and the scope was magnified but the performances were in the forefront looming largest. Everything popped. The music was that much more effective. I left the theater not battered senseless but refreshed.
I truly think that the secret magic of IMAX lies not in its ability to bludgeon us with larger than life spectacle but in allowing us to visit reality. It started as a gimmick and its evolution has led us here. Though I am not in any way a detractor of the 3-D experience, it is IMAX that holds to me the most potential for keeping this vital component of the industry alive and well. With constant forces attempting to lure one away from the theaters and its inherent headaches it is optimism that is the overwhelming feeling I have in regards to the future. IMAX has always been special and exhilarating, but it now that I see it for what it ought to be.
I don’t care if I see The Avengers in IMAX but I know that I want to see the next Paul Thomas Anderson movie in the format. Or the next Wes Anderson. Or the next Coen.
And if there’s any justice, someone somewhere will find a way to allow us to watch All the President’s Men in the format. Or Point Blank. Or Salvador. Or…