It's easy to take the IMAX for granted, isn't it? I mean, you go down to Riverfront Park, you sit in your seat, you get some thrills, maybe even get a little nauseous. It's just like a carnival ride but with a big movie playing at the same time, right?
Well, wrong. In case you haven't been paying attention, the IMAX has been steadily expanding its horizons by playing feature-length films (The Lion King, Apollo 13, The Matrix Reloaded) and by treating large-format filmmaking as an art form that deserves recognition. One of the ways the theater meets this latter goal is by offering the annual IMAX film festival every August, and this year the selection has been narrowed down to five carefully chosen films that will revamp many people's perceptions of what IMAX can be.
In fact, the first film, Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees, is a great example. This film capitalizes on the fact that there's something both deeply affecting and slightly eerie about staring into the face of an animal that shares 99 percent of your DNA. Ordinary folks don't soon forget it; extraordinary folks, such as legendary primatologist Jane Goodall, spend the rest of their lives endeavoring to get a closer look.
Goodall came to Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park in the summer of 1960. During her first decade of work, she made astonishing discoveries that dramatically altered our perceptions of these gregarious, mysterious creatures. Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees offers both cute chimp antics and helicopter rides over Gombe Stream, as well as a look inside Goodall's rigorous touring schedule on behalf of the world's wild places. It's a film that works on a variety of levels.
Bugs is a similar effort, chronicling the natural world drama of an Old World praying mantis (Hierodula) and a butterfly (Papilio). Beyond the character's Latin names however, Bugs is a great film for the kids. Judi Dench narrates Hierodula and Papilio's adventures all around the dilapidated shack they call home in Borneo; the movie ends on a surprisingly realistic note, but the filmmakers handle it all with a positive, nature-friendly approach.
Adrenaline Rush is for those who turn to the IMAX for a bit of stomach-twisting, nausea-inducing, gravity-defying armchair extreme sport action. Following two young skydivers, the film offers a look at both the physical sensations and the psychological challenges of risk-taking. What's especially interesting about Adrenaline Rush is that a lot of the film is taken up with a scientific experiment in which the skydiving pair endeavor to fly a parachute based on Leonardo da Vinci's 1485 design sketches.
Pulse: The Movie would seem to be a large format rip-off of the whole Stomp phenomenon, except that it is in fact a Stomp "odyssey," filmed in Africa, Asia, Europe, South America and the American Southwest. In addition to the usual sounds generated by brooms, trash cans, old metal sinks and PVC pipe, Pulse captures the ancient song and dance traditions of the world's peoples.
And finally Our Country brings it all closer to home with a large-format film celebration of country music. Tracing the development and history of country music over the last century, Our Country shows contemporary acts such as the Dixie Chicks, Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett performing old-style country in such varied locales as Utah, the Appalachians and, of course, the Grand Ole Opry. Look also for period footage, as well as segments including such country music royalty as Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Earl Scruggs.
And finally, this year's audience will have a chance to influence both future IMAX offerings and film festivals by voting for their favorite "big pictures."