Saturday, September 02, 2006

'Superman Returns' in 3D at the London IMAX

I went to see 'Superman Returns' in 3D at the IMAX down the road this evening. I always feel bad that I don't get out to the cinema more often (what with it supposedly 'dying' and all) because I really want to support it, but as always happens when I make the effort, the trip only served as a reminder as to why I much prefer to watch a film on DVD at home.

The IMAX itself was impressive, and in pretty much a first time experience for me, showed a print that was almost flawless with no signs of wear and tear. The seating was excellent too, with chairs stacked very high in vertical tiers so that you don't suffer from the 'irritating tall person blocking the screen' problems that plague most High Street cinemas. The surround sound was awesome during the big action scenes - if only I could get away with playing at that sort of volume at home I'd be in cinematic heaven. So, all good so far on the BFI Imax experience front.

But the ticketing arrangements are very poor. There's something wrong when you're charged an extra £1 for the 'privelege' of booking the ticket yourself online instead of tying up expensive staff on the phone, only to then arrive at the venue and find the queue for pre-booked tickets is four times as long as the queue for people who haven't bothered to pre-book and causes you a fifteen minute delay in getting to the main auditorium.

The 3D presentation was actually just for 20 minutes of the film, split across four separate scenes. For those who've seen the film, interested in knowing what's in 3D and what isn't, the 3D scenes are as follows: (1) Superman dreaming about his younger days as Clark Kent when he learnt to bound great distances and fly, (2) the airline action scene from the start of things going wrong right up to the baseball ground conclusion, (3) the boat drowning scene, and (4) the last 20 seconds-one minute of the film where our caped hero flies off into the stars before the credits roll. These 3D scenes were, for the most part, as good as, if not slightly better than, those you get at the Universal theme park in Los Angeles, and not uncomfortable to watch with polarised glasses rather than the old-fashioned headache-inducing green/red cellophane jobs they used for 3D movies in the old days. But there were a couple of places where the technology that somehow magically converts 2D film into 3D failed. If you go to see the 3D version check out Lex Luthor's girlfriend holding her dog in the helicopter (the 'boat drowning' scene) and you'll see that she is a flat 2D card-board cutout in a sort-of 3D space that really takes you out of the movie, as do too many of the 3D 'distance flying' shots which shout 'CGI' at you in a way none of the 2D scenes in the rest of the movie do. These minor flaws apart, the 3D scenes are well worth checking out, and the very, very large screen at the IMAX is a great way to see a big budget blockbuster like this, even if it works out at £13 a ticket for the experience (ouch!)

So far so good, but yet again it was the audience that totally ruined the whole experience for me. One day I'll go to a cinema, hear the repeated warnings about turning off mobile phones and NOT have the movie interrupted by an incessantly ringing mobile, but I suspect that day will only exist in my dreams. For this performance I had the added joys of restless kids crunching popcorn bags and chatting incessantly through the movie, making the dialogue inaudible for the first 20 minutes of the film. Then there was the kid in the row behind kicking the whole row of seats I was in incessantly to the drum beat of a record only he could hear, whilst his mother refused to admonish him despite the vocal complaints from all around her. And 20 minutes into the film (40 minutes AFTER the advertised start time) we missed parts of the film because the screen was blocked by latecomers being allowed to disrupt everyone to get to their seats. I know London congestion can delay people but when people show that part of the reason they've decided to selfishly ruin everybody else's experience is because even after they arrived late they felt they HAD to go and queue up for popcorn and coke first, I have no sympathy at all. People talk about how watching DVDs at home means you miss out on 'the experience of seeing a movie with an audience'. But tonight confirmed one more time that the audience experience is precisely WHY so many of of us are deserting the multiplexes and preferring to wait a few months to watch the inevitable DVD releases at home.

I'll review the movie itself when the DVD comes out in a few months time, but suffice to say now that although one patron tonight rubbished the film as 'having cost a million dollars a minute' at least this time round that money was, for the most part, right up there and visible on the screen.


Reel Fanatic said...

Sorry to hear the audience was so annoying, but thanks for posting the 3-D stuff anyway .. Not having had the pleasure of seeing it in that format, I was curious .. that plane crash scene must have just been phenomenal!

Ian said...

Yes it was, although funnily enough, much like the Universal Them Park "Terminator" or "Shrek in 3D" experience parts of it felt like they'd been deliberately contrived for 3D rather than being there to serve the movie and story as a whole.

In the plane sequence (which WAS phenomenal :)) the floating Pocket PC and other bits and pieces floating during the short sequence in zero gravity felt like a showcase for 3D - you wanted to reach out and grab the pocket PC - rather than a natural part of the film.

Some of the scenes were almost vertigo inducing and the baseball stadium scene looked very cool.

The least successful scenes by far were those of Superman flying. And in the "flashback" scenes shot from below the grass level the long tall grass was just a messy out-of-focus blur that actually caused my brain to "turn off" whatever it was that was helping me interpret the 3D, if that makes sense.