Friday, November 18, 2005

The IMAX experience of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Poster for Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireToday I went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the local Cinemark IMAX theater. This was my second visit to the new local IMAX theater, and the first time to see a feature film that had been specially mastered for the IMAX viewing space.

This IMAX theater has a screen seven stories wide and five stories high, and boasts of its superlative sound system. Goblet of Fire was a good film to be shown in this format. A number of the visuals in the movie came off very well on the large screen, such as the scenes of the stadium in which the Quidditch World Cup was to be played, or the vast overhead panoramas of the maze in the Triwizard Tournament. On the other hand, close-up shots of faces were simply very big.

The powerful subwoofers immediately behind the projection screen added to a number of the scenes. I was not just seeing and hearing the action but was feeling it as well. The Hungarian Horntail dragon crashed into boulders and buildings with low frequency sounds that made my bones and clothing vibrate. The dragon came just short of landing in the seat next to me.

I agree with many of the comments Ed Blank made about the challenges of condensing a 734 page book into a single feature film.
Rowling readers, some of whom devour the novels multiple times, will catalogue the condensations and omissions, while folks content to settle for the film versions will feel like they're running at Pimlico as the picture zips through its exhaustingly busy fantasy plot.
Each new book in the series is longer than the last because Rowling recapitulates the stories that have already been told. This repetition is a great aid to a reader, but it creates a major hurdle for the translation of the book into film. Mike Newell successfully edited out enough of the book to create a movie that could be viewed in 157 minutes. The plot is internally coherent, but a viewer who is not familiar with any of the books or the preceding films will be somewhat handicapped in appreciating this film.

Even television miniseries will usually spend an initial five minutes or so telling a viewer what happened previously; this movie drops immediately into the story. It introduces the mystery Harry sees in his dream where a caretaker is killed by a group of men with a giant snake; a flashback to the dream is then repeated when parts of the puzzle fall into place. There is thus some assistance for a neophyte viewer of this film.

But the characters in this film are introduced with the barest amount of information, often just a name. A neophyte viewer would have very little understanding of the relationships between the characters, or clues to know which characters are new in this episode of the story.

Parents considering taking their children to this film should be aware that this is the darkest of the stories told so far. There is fantasy violence in this film, with scenes of Harry being cut and bleeding, and with the murder of a supporting character. Although Harry escapes the attempt on his life at the end of the film, the story ends with the emergence of a powerful evil force unresolved, with all of the implications that holds for future threats to the hero.

That being said, I enjoyed the film, and look forward to the next episode in the saga.

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