From the rocking impact of the Rolling Stones' "At the Max," which ended a 10-month run last weekend, the Maryland Science Center's "After Hours at IMAX" program becomes significantly quieter and more contemplative this weekend.
The double-feature films "The First Emperor of China" and "Seasons" take viewers, respectively, on an opulent trip back into time and through a dreamy nature landscape. The bill opens tonight and runs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; admission is $5.
*"First Emperor," completed in 1989 as a co-production of
China's National Film Board/ Xi'an Film Studio and the Canadian Museum of Civilization, diverges sharply from most films made to exploit the large-format IMAX process.
Indeed, it seems like an educational show you might find on public television.
The film tells a straightforward story: a dryly narrated and stiffly dramatized account of the rise about 22 centuries ago of a warlord named Qin (pronounced Chin) Shihuang. Declaring himself "The Prince of Heaven," he briefly and at times brutally united into a single dynasty the regions of China that had been warring for some 500 years
Building the Great Wall ranks as one of the emperor's achievements. He also standardized systems of currency and measurement, imposed a common written language and centralized government into administrative regions.
But Qin may be remembered most for having the vanity of a pharaoh.
For the First Emperor decided that if he failed in his attempt to become immortal, his grave would have to be like no other on Earth. And peasant farmers digging a well in 1974 discovered what that meant.
Viewers will recall the celebrated archaeological discovery of Qin's tomb, most notable for containing "the terra cotta army." More than 7,000 life-size statues of soldiers, horses and chariots, as well as weaponry and a variety of bronze and lacquer artifacts, accompanied the emperor to his reward.
The building of the tomb took 36 years, and the IMAX film re-creates some of the activity.
Ultimately, it is the scale of "First Emperor" that impresses. With a huge and costumed cast and remarkable sets, the $6.5 million movie is a kind of diorama brought to life on a seven-story-high screen.
*"Seasons" returns to the Science Center after an evening run in 1989, and features William Shatner narrating a nature study to the accompaniment of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," as performed by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Plant life and the workings of the complicated atmospheric machine we call weather receive most of the attention, as if humans are a relatively unimportant factor.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul region provided the filming locations.
Actually, "Seasons" is also something like a PBS show, but the IMAX process offers a far more intimate view than can the small screen.
"The First Emperor of China" and "Seasons"
Where: The Maryland Science Center's IMAX Theater.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Admission: $5 a person, includes both films.
Call: (410) 685-5225.