The IMAX Experience

My wife and I strolled up to Seattle's Pacific Science Center, home of the infamous Space Needle, to check the times on the IMAX shows. I was expecting to watch Space Station or Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West or some other educational picture as so many IMAX features are. But to my utter delight, across the reader board read "Star Wars: Episode 2 starts Nov. 1". I don't live in Seattle, we were just in town for the weekend. With nothing really planned, I said to my wife, "Let's go take in an IMAX movie."

Don't think for a moment that I didn't know that this, the latest installment of Star Wars, was opening in IMAX theaters all over North America. In fact, for over a month I waited checking the PacSci Center's web site and praying for information. The Internet lied to me. It appeared that the show times were all booked for other shows at the PacSci IMAX. I accepted the fact that I would not be able to participate in what I thought would be my greatest IMAX experience ever.

But here was this billboard telling me different. After a short bit of jumping up and down and giggling between my wife and I (she is just as big of a Star Wars fan as I am) we went in and bought tickets for a show and came back an hour and a half before the show time. We certainly weren't the first in line, but close enough to the front to assure we would have good seats. And then we noticed the Stormtroopers standing guard at the gate at the front of the line.

When we were let in, the troopers, blasters in hand, escorted us down to the Boeing IMAX Theater. They were from Garrison Titan, a fan group of Stormtroopers stationed in Seattle. As we entered the building there was a Tie pilot as well as a few other varieties. The uniforms were great replicas, and I'm sure, very expensive.

Once in the theater, we had to stand in line again. Of course, common to other Star Wars lines I've waited in, our position in line slowly moved from 20 to 60 from the front with out us moving. However, we were still close enough and lucky enough to get center seating, the best seats in the house.

It is really hard to describe how incredible it was. If you've never been to an IMAX movie the vinyl screens tower 6 stories high and the 12,000 watt digital sound systems are supreme. The detail from the 70 mm film (standard) moving at 24 frames per second is breath taking. These films are not for the faint of heart. It's not uncommon for a person to have their senses overwhelmed, forcing them to run from the theater to praise the porcelain god.

The painstaking work of the Industrial Light and Magic team was brought to light on this gigantic screen. The detail in computer generated shots was spectacular and they enlarged to the IMAX format very well. However, because this movie was not shot with IMAX camera or with the idea that it was going to be shown in the IMAX format, there were a few problems. First of all, the close up shots of people's faces were very unforgiving. We could see ever zit, mole, scar or other. Also, because of the transfer from the 35 mm scale to 70 mm, at some points there was a bit of pixelized fuzzies. However, it was good to finally make out the inscription on Mace Windu's lightsaber, "Bad Motherfucker."

Then came the scene that made it all worthwhile. Yoda moseyed on in to lay some smack down on Count Dooku. As the saber duel started I took my attention away from the screen for a moment to look at the other 400 heads bob and spin, as if a wave in the sea, following the Jedi Master's every move.

There were several scenes that were cut for this release. IMAX film is so large that movies need to be kept under an hour and a half so they can fit on the reel. Although noticeable to the diehard fans, the cuts really didn't diminish the plot or the really spectacular visual sections.

Sitting next to me in the theater (other than my wife of course) was a mother with her six year old son on her lap. I couldn't help but think of watching The Return of the Jedi on the big screen at the same age. But this kid got it on the really big screen, something I'm sure he will remember for the rest of his life. I know I will.