"Super Speedway" lets moviegoers see what it's…
The Maryland Science Center wants Baltimore moviegoers to know that sensory-immersion filmmaking didn't start with "Avatar."
For more than 20 years, the five-story screen of the center's IMAX theater has featured thrills every bit as spine-tingling as seeing 10-foot-tall blue aliens ride flying dragons through floating mountains.
"Avatar" has been great propaganda for IMAX theaters: They've accounted for a whopping 12 percent of that blockbuster's domestic gross. Starting Tuesday , the center hopes to attract fans of all kinds - not only fantasy or sci-fi freaks, or lovers of artificial spectacle - to an IMAX film festival. With this seven-film roster, the Science Center hopes to popularize the "wow factor" of seeing natural sights in a format that floods eyes and ears with real-life wonder.
Jim O'Leary, the senior director in charge of programs at the Davis Planetarium and the IMAX theater, "says we haven't done a festival in years. We wanted to show off what IMAX can do with titles that everyone on our staff liked." The group's enthusiasm for experiencing exotic climes in ultra-high-resolution imagery and six-channel stereophonic sound resulted in an eclectic assemblage - travelogues, nature films, even a human-interest sports movie. "It's a mix of oldies and goodies and new ones," says O'Leary. "Also, a couple that we've shown only for specialized audiences."
With O'Leary providing running commentary, here's the scoop on the lineup:
'Grand Canyon: Discovery and Adventure' O'Leary calls this "one of the first classic IMAX films. It contains an amazing story of exploration about John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Union Army veteran who made the first passage through the Grand Canyon in 1869. This film mixes historical understanding with the majesty of the canyon itself. You are there in the white water when he shoots the rapids of the Colorado River."
'Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure' It's an abridged version of George Butler's majestic documentary "The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition." O'Leary keeps a copy on hand to show to the National Youth Leadership Congress as an example of, well, leadership. It chronicles Ernest Shackleton's 1914 attempt to make his British team the first to traverse the Antarctic continent - and his struggle to bring them back alive when the Endurance got stuck in ice a day's journey from the shore. O'Leary makes this version sound like "Titanic" without the laborious buildup. "Shackleton wanted someone to document everything, and he had a cameraman, Frank Hurley, who shot 35 mm footage, and when you see these actual shots of the ship being destroyed and the guys abandoning it, everything is dramatic - the masts splitting apart, the cracking ice floes."
'Ring of Fire' For O'Leary, this is "an all-time favorite. It's got volcanoes and earthquakes, and it also mixes in the culture of the folks who live in the shadows of volcanoes." O'Leary says the film's audiovisual capture of Japanese drums has a potency that pierces to the marrow. "You see guys who look like bodybuilders pounding these big drums. With the IMAX six-channel stereo, it goes straight through you. Our sound system is amazing. We have a subwoofer so big you can just about walk into it."
'Tropical Rainforest' If you enjoyed the disco version in "Avatar," you can savor the real thing in this record of the 400 million-year evolution of Earth's jungles. "Of course, a lot of medicines have been discovered from the rainforest's trees and plants, and the message of the piece is one of protecting our resources," says O'Leary. "But the thing I remember most is the view from high up in the forest canopy. Most of us have some feeling for what's on the floor of the rainforest. But it's a whole other environment at the top of these gigantic trees. Researchers hoist themselves up. The camera takes you right up there with them."
'Mystic India' It follows the path of 11-year-old yogi Neeklanth who crossed India from 1792-1799 without provisions, maps or baggage, facing down wild animals and surviving the bone-rattling chill of the Himalayas. O'Leary calls it "a wonderful tour piece" that takes you back to the time when films thrived on travelogues. "In IMAX, the screen becomes like a window" - and in "Mystic India," the dense atmosphere flows right through it.