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The Extraordinary and the New


Written by: Herb Lash
Date: October 2002

BMZ writer Herb Lash gives his take on the Films-in-Progress shown at the 2002 GSTA Industry Conference.


Category: Columns

Toronto was the setting for the Giant Screen Theater Association's 2002 Conference, and where better to watch Big Movies than in the country that gave birth to IMAX? The conference delivered a crash course in the history and evolution of Large Format filmmaking. Where else might you get a chance to see TIGER CHILD (1968) - a head-spinning montage of lovers getting groovy, slaughterhouse carnage, wacky foot chases and a Gordon Lightfoot solo? TIGER CHILD and the breezy NORTH OF SUPERIOR are testaments to the "we can do anything" philosophy that drove the Canadian mad professors and filmmakers behind the original IMAX technologies. We all know "Niceness" is a Canadian virtue. But what about those Canadians who smile like Celine Dion and punch like Marty McSorley? When you come across the weird, the twisted, the dark, the revolutionary or the hilarious wrapped in a veneer of "Niceness" - you may have discovered that other Canadian virtue - Subversiveness. With IMAX, a bunch of "nice" Canadian guys set out to change and challenge the notion of what going to the movie theater means. The spirit of today's Large Format world is probably more conformist than subversive - but not to worry, there are still some Large Format filmmakers intent on delivering up the extraordinary and the new. Here are the Films In Progress:

FORCES OF NATURE: Natural Disasters (Jan. 2004)
There is a now famously lyrical image in the film AMERICAN BEAUTY where a plastic bag is swept up in a swirling breeze and blown about in a mesmerizing little sky dance. It is a touching and subtle evocation of man versus nature. In FORCES OF NATURE the swirling breeze is a tornado and the plastic bag is a barn…This Big Movie will feature at least one of the most terribly beautiful images ever captured for the Giant Screen. Forget the CGI tornadoes of TWISTER, in watching these real tornadoes you will see an incarnation of pure, natural force.

BUGS! in 3D (Spring 2003)
The unbelievably grotesque, absurd and horrifying monsters that have freaked out and delighted modern movie audiences are more often than not modeled after real creatures from the bug world. The latest footage from BUGS! continues to raise expectations. Beetle battles and bug journeys look impossibly crisp in 3-D and are artfully composed. Based on about one minute of footage, I will take on any wager that this Big Movie is going to be an instant classic.

For most of us, a trip to Siberia is about as likely as a voyage to another planet - it is an imagined place. With a spirit of curiosity and discovery, the filmmakers behind SECRETS OF SIBERIA promise to pilot us through this massive, mysterious country and introduce us to the real and fascinating people who live here. The standard travelogue "shows and tells" with a monotone predictability that strips a place of its mystique. The first look at the images from this film suggest the opposite approach - these pictures of alien landscapes fuel the imagination. Humor, history and culture look to be integral parts of the film - as well as the larger than life presence of guide/narrator Peter Ustinov.

The latest preview of this film continues to impress. A preservationist/discovery theme is accompanied by what looks to be some real human drama. One of our tour guide scientists gets into some deep water trouble - the bends are never fun. Some truly inventive mapping graphics and a Crosby Stills Nash soundtrack look to raise the bar in terms of production values. . .Science and a breezy fun attitude are the rule. Watch a shrimp and gobe fish share a little abode and rock out to "OUR HOUSE" - an example of the fragile synergy that makes a coral reef vital. . .As beautiful as they are delicate, the planet's relatively few giant coral reefs are a universe unto themselves. The film cruises beneath the waters of the South Pacific and captures reef life in Fiji, Tahiti, Rangiroa and Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

TRAINS (2003)
Planes get you there faster and cars offer a bit more freedom - but there is nothing like a journey by train. The history of railroad building is more than enough for an epic film - laying track through inhospitable regions and seemingly impossible routes required blood, sweat and ingenuity. This Big Movie promises to take a look at the advent of the railroad industry - all the while treating us to some incredible vistas. This first brief look at the film suggests that the filmmakers know how to use the entire Giant Screen canvas to great effect.

TOP SPEED (April 2003)
In the featured clip, Olympic superstar Marion Jones teams up with sitcom superstar Tim Allen in what looks to be a crazy/sexy/cool investigation of speed. Sprinting, mountain biking, Porsching or skydiving - humans have a need for speed and the Imax cameras here are not shy about getting close to the action.

OUR COUNTRY (July 2003)
A close look and listen to country music might provide a unique window on the history of the United States. The subject matter does not seem to cry out for Giant Screen treatment - but the all-star line up of country musicians is big enough to fill any size screen. Lyle Lovett, Loretta Lynn, Dwight Yoakam and Dolly Parton will be featured in live performances while archival footage makes the past come alive.

HEART OF INDIA (Spring 2004)
The story of the construction of the Taj Mahal is part fairytale, part engineering marvel and part human struggle. But it is an entirely Indian story. The Taj Mahal looks to be the centerpiece of a film seeking to get at the heart of a culture. Small and beautiful gestures are captured for the Giant Screen. The look is so far exquisite and the music thrilling.

NASCAR (2003)
NASCAR racing has no shortage of die-hard fans and there is a reason - the sound and the fury of these super-charged cars is simply awesome. The filmmakers look to be taking a rock concert approach to the spectacle of a NASCAR race. Time lapse images show the preparation of the track and the legions of fans showing up for the big event. But the cars are the stars - whether whipping around the track or flying into the pit stops - the cars are poised to make explosive use of Giant Screen sound.

Disney storytelling tailored expressly for the IMAX format, a day and date release and a timeless/universal tale - YOUNG BLACK STALLION will be under heavy scrutiny. But so far so good, all of the things the IMAX cameras love are in place: wide open vistas, sleek animals and sweeping music. . .Good luck Mouse.

A six story Yoda yells out to his troops, "Concentrate all firepower on the nearest starship!" Lasers blasts fly and the battle is on. . .the latest STAR WARS installment is getting the digital blow-up treatment. It looks crisp and clear - but was still not composed for the Giant Screen - and it probably won't matter to the guys and gals getting their Darth Vader costumes ready for the opening. Theater owners, prepare your troops for an attack of the Star Wars geeks…and then count your money.

Texas is the sort of place people like to brag about - and so it was only a matter of time before some Texan struck upon the idea of using the biggest screen in the world to sing the praises of the Lone Star State. The film is full of bulls, horses, rodeos and even some city folk. The film looks like a good-time travelogue - guaranteed to be larger than life.

Adventuring forth, colonizing and laying the foundation for new civilizations - humans have been doing it on foot, on horseback, by sea, by wagon, train, car, plane and most recently by spaceship. All of these journeys take place in the mind first - none requires more imagination, sophistication and daring than blasting out of this atmosphere and into the greatest last frontier. SPACE JOURNEY aims to get at the heart of the human need to leave this planet, to discover new worlds. . .The Space Shuttle is perhaps the Giant Screen's biggest star and with the MacGillivray Freeman touch it is sure to be shown off in its best light. Mars, astronauts and the individuals who have made the Space Age possible will also get their due.

OCEAN PLANET (March 2005)
We are the ocean planet - or as Carl Sagan puts it, the pale blue dot - and this film looks to inspire appreciation as it educates. The brief clip shown here does the extraordinary as it transforms the familiar into something new. Textured, glimmering images of the ocean become almost abstract - not just another "water" documentary.

The straightforward travelogue looks to feature the natural beauty and man made relics of the cradle of Western civilization. There can be no shortage of educational content or awe-inspiring vistas as the IMAX cameras take in the lush and sun-drenched colors of magnificent Greece.

Not the loveliest or liveliest of animals, the mermaid compensates with a soulful beauty as it lolls about in shallow waters. MANATEE - THE FORGOTTEN MERMAID seeks to give a natural history of this sea cow that was once revered as a mermaid and is now an endangered species. The film is clearly an effort at education in hopes of saving this gentle creature.

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