Had my first ever IMAX experience the other night, seeing Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure (narrated by Kevin Spacey) at Fernbank as part of their Friday night Martinis and IMAX series. Afterwards, while sipping a classic gin martini underneath massive dinosaur skeletons with S, I reflected that Shackleton was more interesting in its treatment of “ways of seeing,” as this Cincinatti Enquirer reviewer suggests. 70mm IMAX shots are interspersed with photographs and film footage taken by photographer Frank Hurley during their expedition, which began in 1914 (Hurley’s footage was itself edited into a popular 1919 film, according to the review).
The film takes the standard narrative, men surviving great odds to prevail over impossible conditions (okay–I admit, I’m trying to highlight my implicit masculinity critique), but the real story in my experience is the photography itself, and the rugged icebergs and barren islands provide the cameras with compelling material although the attempts at re-enacting the survival efforts fell flat, for me at least. IMAX films require epic scope, and Shackleton’s story is certainly epic, but the contemporary performances felt a little contrived. I think I would have preferred a much more careful montage between Hurley’s photography, which for me was the emotional center of the film, and contemporary images. I also found the use of different people reading crew members’ diary entries in voice-over somewhat distracting. Keeping a consistent v/o (Spacey’s) might have made Shackleton feel less “artificial.”
The IMAX shots that captured the shape and scope of the icebergs and landscapes were quite effective. Given their visual power, I can see why IMAX films are so attracted to these images of the “natural world.” Nope, I can’t avoid the scare quotes; I’m far too aware that these IMAX images are carefully constructing an image of the natural. Manovich’s distinction between realism and photorealism is probably in the back of my mind here (as well as pretty much anything Derrida wrote in the 1970s).
Looking back at my own review, I realize the film seemed to reinforce a specific narrative about nature (that it is epic, that men compete against it) rather than any other number of potential narratives. I’m still struggling with my language here, with wrapping my thoughts around the technology. This is my first IMAX experience, and I want to get a better sense of what the technology does. I’d like to know what experiences my readers have with IMAX and whether they also find it somewhat contrived in its construction of the natural world?