Sunday 23 September 2007

Harry Potter in 3D!

I should start by admitting that I'm not a particular fan of the Harry Potter series. I've only read one of the books; the first one, a few years ago, to find you what all the fuss was about. I concluded that I would have really enjoyed it when I was aged 8 or 10, but wasn't moved to read any others. However, last year my wife felt like watching some light entertainment on TV and I discovered that I had the first Potter film on video (I video TV films in much the same way that I buy books: I always collect far more than I've time to deal with). We watched it and, to my surprise (since she is no SFF fan), she enjoyed it. So we've since watched all of the others which have appeared on TV.

We were recently in London for a few days and since there was only one play we fancied ("The Last Confession", a very good Vatican drama starring David Suchet) we saw the latest Bourne film the next evening (a lot less intellectual, but good of its type and quite a blast) and had the third evening spare – which is when we spotted that the most recent Harry Potter film (the Order of the Phoenix) was on at the Waterloo IMAX cinema.

I'd visited an IMAX once before and was impressed by the spectacle. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they show films shot on specially large film stock and projected onto a giant screen, with huge depth as well as width. By comparison, viewing the usual cinema widescreen is like watching through a letterbox. However, they don't usually show programmes which we're interested in seeing. This time was different, so we duly went along.

The programme started with trailers of some of their other films, many of which seemed to be CGI productions. The novelty was that they were in 3D. It's many decades since I last saw a 3D film and the technology has moved on – and then some. You still have to wear special glasses but they're no longer red and green (I presume that they use Polaroid lenses at different angles to separate the images, but I haven't enquired). The effect of this in combination with the huge screen is simply amazing. To give one example, an underwater scene showed a shoal of fish which swam towards the viewer. The effect was so realistic that it was tempting to try to reach out and touch the fish as they swam up to us. It reminded me of the Star Trek holodecks! If you've never been to an IMAX theatre and get the chance, go and see any 3D production – it doesn't matter what it is – just for the experience.

So to the Potter film, the finale of which was also in 3D (not to quite such dramatic effect as the CGI films, but it still added considerable depth to the scenes). It looked great on the big screen, you feel that you’re a part of what's going on rather than watching from a distance. I won't bother to recount the plot (you either know it or you're not interested) but it continued with the tale of Potter at Hogwarts, with the mix being much as before. There were some oddities and loose ends which I presume resulted from a desire to include as much as possible of the book: Hagrid is initially absent on a mission to recruit the Giants to their cause, but the outcome is inconclusive and we never hear about the Giants again (although Hagrid does produce a giant half-brother, with no explanation for their difference in size); a strange girl, who changes her hair colour with her mood, appears as a member of the Order of the Phoenix but after one scene never appears again; another rather fey blonde girl appears at the school and is given some prominence but doesn't appear to add much to the plot.

I find these films entertaining enough to watch, but not especially involving. One of the weaknesses in my view is Harry Potter himself: the action goes on all around him, but he mainly seems to stand there looking blank or apprehensive. My favourite character is Hermione; Emma Watson is a talented young actress and her portrayal of her character's quirks and expressions always makes me smile.

So when the next Potter film comes out, we'll be looking for it to appear on IMAX…

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