Any self-respecting film nerd living in the greater Nashville area has probably made a trip or two to the Regal Opry Mills 20, home to a real IMAX screen (not one of those junky knockoffs). Having an authentic IMAX screen is the icing on the cake for local movie lovers. But at $18 a ticket, the Opry Mills IMAX is also the priciest movie night in town. For a movie date, you may be paying through the nose for a movie that may not even take advantage of the format — especially if it's a lame conversion of some kind.
With that in mind, Country Life issues this IMAX Report Card, complete with graded categories to gauge whether you should shell out the extra dough. First up: Guillermo del Toro’s high-flying monster vs. robots epic Pacific Rim.
I'll admit up front that I'm an unabashed fan of the movie, a Godzilla throwback with a dazzling sense of scale and the chops and effects to bring its robot/monster menagerie to life. But Pacific Rim is also one of those rare movies that works well in IMAX even though it wasn't filmed that way. (Recent movies like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Dark Knight Rises utilized the IMAX shooting format during production, which allows for the image to fill the entire screen without cropping.)
Even though Pacific Rim takes up only three-fourths of the screen — the IMAX aspect ratio is a nearly square 1.43:1, while the movie was shot in 1.85:1 — del Toro clearly knew what he was doing. The film plays extremely well in the format. The colossal fight scenes between the robot Jaegers and the monstrous Kaiji highlight the experience, with the screen size making the bouts that much more thrilling. Before seeing the footage in IMAX, I didn't really see the grandeur of del Toro's vision. I got a much better sense of the movie's dramatic use of proportion (especially the towering heights of the Jaegers compared to their human counterparts).
Watching robots and monsters knock the snot out of each other works best on the biggest screen, so I’d say Pacific Rim passes this test with flying colors. Only a few times did I ever feel bothered by the empty space at the top of the screen — if the film had actually been shot in IMAX, it would have boggled the eye and mind alike. But I suppose that our brains can only handle so much. Despite a few upper-screen gap woes, Pacific Rim dominates the formatting test.
Boy oh boy, does Pacific Rim sound great in an IMAX theater. One of the most immersive aspects of the film is its sound display, with the surround sound coming in particularly handy. When the movie's in the heat of battle or on the workshop floor, the sound design is so evocative you expect to turn around and see activity all around you. Even by the standards of IMAX movies, which almost never have sound issues, Pacific Rim’s audio presentation is top-notch.
Here’s my quibble with Pacific Rim’s IMAX presentation. While I came to admire the 3D as the film progressed, it took approximately 25 minutes for my eyes to adjust. Maybe it’s just me, but the sharpness of the images on-screen was almost too overwhelming out of the gate. Once I became accustomed to watching the film in 3D, I had no problems.
The 3D works best when it comes to depth. When the camera tilts up toward the skyscraper-sized Jaegers, the combination of the IMAX presentation and the 3D truly makes you feel like you’re standing right there with the crew.
The worst part of the experience by far is the actual 3D glasses. Unlike the RealD 3D glasses that fit like ordinary sunglasses, IMAX 3D glasses resemble the theme park-style goggles that wrap around your head with bendable sides. They fit awkwardly on your head, as opposed to the RealD glasses, which usually work well depending on the quality of the 3D film being viewed. While Pacific Rim makes good use of its 3D, the initial ocular adjustment and getting used to cruddy glasses can be an annoyance for at least the first part of the movie.
Mitigating factors: The trailer for Gravity
Of the (many, many) previews that were shown, Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity stuck out most. I mean, seriously: Some awe-inspiring scenes of space serve as prelude to an explosion that sends astronauts George Clooney and Sandra Bullock hurling into the void. I’d seen the clip before, but gracious, did its tumbling leads, whizzing debris and dizzying shifts in perspective look stunning in IMAX 3D. It’s enough to keep me salivating for the actual film, which hits regular and IMAX theaters on Oct. 4.
Overall Experience: A-
Pacific Rim's look and audio were practically tailor-made for the format, but the initially off-putting 3D takes some adjustment. Otherwise, this is a gigantic movie worth the full price of IMAX admission.
Next month: Elysium, the new science-fiction thriller from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp.