Cinema as spectacle

The first film I remember seeing as a child is “The Sword in the Stone“, a Disney film. Through the years I’ve enjoyed going to the movies, escaping reality for a few hours. I once watched the entire “Planet of the Apes” series in a marathon at a theatre in Los Angeles, drove half an hour to see a 70mm print of “Star Wars” a dozen or so times the summer of 1977, and saw a midnight showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in New Jersey in 1979. One of the strangest experiences was “Apocalypse Now” at an Airbase, the only time I’ve seen an airstrike get a standing ovation.

Over the years, cinematography has become as interesting to me as the story, film scoring caught my ear beginning with “Star Wars”, but I don’t think it was until “Edward Scissorhands” that I was moved by an acting performance. There are actors that I’ve managed to see every film they’ve been in, but I’ve never avoided a film because of an actor.

Technology has become as important as storyline to Hollywood. Audiences are compelled by visuals, and computer generated characters are acceptable, maybe even preferred, by a generation raised on video games. Sometimes, effects like 3D and IMAX can enhance a film, sometimes they’re just a gimmick to move a bad script.

“Prometheus” was enhanced by 3D and IMAX, and “Oz the Great and Powerful” used 3D beautifully, drawing the viewer into the film, from spectator to participant. The scripts were great (although I don’t think the ruby slippers were explained properly), and I know the films will translate well to the medium through which most films are seen today, television. “Gravity”, on the other hand, could not exist outside an IMAX theatre. Much like the early IMAX productions, the spectacle of the images was the most important player in the film. Listening to Sandra Bullock breathe heavily for ninety minutes isn’t going to work without the impression of confinement within a vast emptiness that was conveyed in the theatre. The film was marketed on its visual effects, but unfortunately that’s all it has.

I am very much looking forward to “Ender’s Game”, which opens 1 November. The source, Orson Scott Card’s books, is a science fiction classic, and a timeless allegory about warfare, all the more meaningful in today’s generation of video games and virtual realities. It will be difficult to follow the actual story, with Ender aging through his childhood, but the trailers I have seen appear to have captured the content. It has the potential to be stunning in an IMAX presentation, and if the script holds true it may become popular for home viewing. Due to the centrality of time dilation in the storyline, it may not be possible to continue the series, the characters age at different rates, but anything is possible with technology.


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