The Top Ten IMAX Movie Releases
Raiders of the Lost Ark is being released in IMAX theaters this weekend, which is something, I think, we are all looking forward to. It will indeed be in the clear-as-a-bell giant-screen format, but, more than anything, it’s an opportunity to see one of the best action films of all time on the big screen. Perhaps for the first time. Who doesn’t want to see the legendary Indiana Jones whipping Nazis, shooting swordsmen, and fleeing snakes, all in public with strangers? I am keen to go.
IMAX has been releasing and re-releasing movies in their oversized format for many years now. The first IMAX film I saw was Transitions back in 1986, when they were still making museum-only spectacle films that explored a facet of science. These days, many commercial theaters are equipped with IMAX. Some of the IMAX theaters are also still adhering to the original IMAX design as well (that is: a large 1.43:1 aspect ratio screen, stadium seating and, ideally, 70mm film; don’t be fooled by recently-converted multiplex screens and digital 3D projection. Those films are kind of a mini-IMAX. For a list of proper IMAX screens, check out this link).
As such, it’s time to look at some of the best feature films to see in the proper IMAX format. These are films that can only be enhanced by the enormity that an IMAX screen provides, and are mostly about spectacle and roller coaster visuals. A word a lot of critics like to use is “immersive.” Here are some films that can be made more immersive with the expanded image, improved sound, and enhanced projection.
Avatar (dir. James Cameron, 2009)
Many people have a beef with the oversimplified story of James Cameron’s Avatar, still the highest-earning film of all time. Say what you will about the story, Avatar looks fantastic. When the film was released, it was hailed as the next step in special effects technology, and the effects, it turned out, were just as good as everyone said they were. What’s more, Cameron really made the notion of 3-D explode with this film, as he released it in the latest of 3-D technologies. As a result, he made this fantastical alien world, populated by blue-skinned giants, actually feel like a real place. Just as much attention was spent on the Na’Vi’s expressive faces as the alien animals and giant robot suits. Avatar may be a simplified parable, but that’s not why it was so successful. It was successful because of the sheer spectacle. It’s rare that a movie is a big event like this, and Avatar is only a better event when the spectacle is bigger.
Superman Returns (dir. Bryan Singer, 2006)
Superman Returnswas largely panned by critics, and largely ignored by fans. It’s easy to see why. The film plays less like a bold return of the Man of Steel, and more like a loving and sacred tribute to Christopher Reeve and the 1978 Superman feature film. The film’s plot is less about stopping bad guys and Superman doing heroic things, and more about the day-to-day experience of being Clark Kent. As such, the film drags a little, and seems a bit too untouchable and holy to be really enjoyed. But, so long as it’s a bold and loving tribute, you may as well put it on the highest pedestal possible. So show this film in IMAX, and make it larger and more epic by dint of its visuals. Really look at Superman, enjoy his cape, moon over his carefully-placed spitcurl, marvel at his super strength. If all we’re watching is a Superman highlights reel, make those highlights look good.
Beauty and the Beast (dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, 1991)
The only animated feature film to have been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (until Toy Story 3 in 2010), Beauty and the Beast is one of the more beloved of an already beloved Disney canon. A sweet romance, and a well-designed Gothic drama, the film has been memorized by more than one generation of children. It makes sense, then, that this special film should be the first commercial studio film to be blown up into the IMAX format. Beauty and the Beast is impressive in any format, and the IMAX doesn’t necessarily enhance the visuals, but it would, most certainly, enhance the experience, making it something grand.
Prometheus (dir. Ridley Scott, 2012)
Debatably one of the best films of 2012, Ridley Scott’s follow-up to his own Alien has been hotly contested for its bizarre story conceits, and many fans have lambasted it for its lack of alien mayhem. What Prometheus does, though, is present a story that encircles “big” philosophical questions like religious longing, the origins of humankind, and the true purpose of the scientific quest for knowledge. Dealing with such big questions as it does, it makes sense, then, to have such a film on the bigger screen. What’s more, the film is expertly designed, and features many scenes of characters wandering through vast alien environments, encountering the unknown. I think seeing this film in 3-D on a big IMAX screen would only allow you to get lost in those dank, sticky hallways along with them. In this case, IMAX could make this big film even bigger.
The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan, 2008, 2012)
Director Christopher Nolan is an old-school auteur who has famously and repeatedly touted the advantages that physical celluloid film has over the recent move to digital projection. Digital has its place, but if you’ve never seen a film in 70mm, then you’re missing out on something grand and vital in the world of cinema. Nolan, as a way of fighting for the format, used his accumulated goodwill (which he built up with the success of Batman Begins), and decided to film his ever-popular Batman sequel The Dark Knight partly in IMAX 70mm, and ensure that it was projected in such a way. His deft camerawork and awesome photography was only enhanced. This summer, he released The Dark Knight Rises, also perhaps one of the best films of the year, in even more IMAX screens, touting even louder the virtues of the format. I saw it in that format. Yes, it was truly awesome that way.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (dir. Brad Bird, 2011)
The fourth of the Mission: Impossible film franchise was, before its release, considered something of a joke. Here was a film that was, after all, a sequel no one asked for, featuring a star (Tom Cruise) who was considered, even at his relatively young age, too old to play an action star like this. Many, then, were surprised to see how exciting and taut the film was. What’s more, many of the central action set pieces were filmed in IMAX, including a truly nail-biting sequence wherein Cruise has to use special sticky gloves to scale the tallest building in the world, which was accomplished with a minimum of digital effects. Sweeping camera angles are real visuals are what IMAX is all about. When the stunts are real, and you’re that close to the action, you may pass out.
TRON: Legacy (dir. Joseph Kosinski, 2010)
On the other side of the coin, you have recent digital special effects that strive not for realism, but utter artificiality. TRON: Legacy is a film that takes place almost entirely within a computer, and is told from the point of view of the human-shaped “programs” that live inside it. The world is a black glass wonderland of neon lights and artificial humanity, marked by their glowing suits, grey skin, and mastery of outlandish computer game vehicles. This is a story about being immersed in a computer world, so it makes sense that the IMAX experience makes it more “immersive.” Unlike Avatar, though, this film was going for a more definite aesthetic than the creation of an actual realistic world. As such, one can put on the glasses and get lost in the fantasy.
Speed Racer (dir. The Wachowskis, 2008)
The utterly bonkers Speed Racer is notable in many ways, not least of which was the fact that it is probably the most artificial and colorful live-action film ever made. The forcefulness of its candy-colored universe almost feels like an assault even when you see it on the small screen. The film is shiny, and most assuredly invents at least three new shades of purple. Imagine, then, tasting the rainbow of Speed Racer in 70 millimeters, and on a screen bigger than your house. Gunning the engine and jamming your car around the track… you yourself will be a demon on wheels. You fly into a colorful vortex of spectral carnage unbeheld by the likes of modern man. Speed Racer is not so much a spectacle, as it is an experiment on what human eyeballs can withstand. It only makes sense, then, to push that experiment to its logical extreme.
Apollo 13 (dir. Ron Howard, 1995)
Why see this film, set largely inside a tiny spaceship, and featuring few epic action scenes, in IMAX? Well, for one, the shuttle launch. Ron Howard used state-of-the-art visual effects to recreate the shuttle launch of the Apollo 13 spacecraft, which rather infamously did not reach the moon thanks to some technical difficulties. I love watching shuttles take off, and I love space travel. So seeing a shuttle taking off in IMAX would be awesome for me. Also, Apollo 13 is just a great movie, and should be seen in any format.
Titanic (dir. James Cameron, 1997)
We start with Cameron, and we end with him. Titanic was the highest-grossing film of all time until Avatar came along, and, even then, it’s still in currently second place (sorry Avengers fans). The three-hour epic, as is Cameron’s wont, uses amazing special effects to recreate the famous maiden voyage of the infamously doomed ship. And while much of the story focuses on a love triangle, the exteriors really give one a sense of being on board the ship. Then, once the spectacular disaster begins, you can only be blown away – and in many cases completely heartbroken – by the mass death on display. The Titanic was a huge ship, Titanic was a huge film, and IMAX is the perfect way to make huge things even huger.
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