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ghosts of the abyss - imax, millennium point, 17/08/2003

simon gray - 2003-08-17, 00:54:01

this was my first visit to millennium point, which considering it has been open for just over two years now is quite telling - but more on that later. 

ghost of the abyss is a documentary by james cameron taking us back to the site of the rms titanic, scene of his 1997 oscar winning success, shot in imax 3d. if you've got any prejudices about any of those aspects of it - think again. 3d cinematography has come an awfully long way since those terrible films of the 50s where the red & green tinted aliens loomed into your lap, & imax as a cinema format is considerably more than 'just a big screen'. 

the publicity blurb (& the somewhat cold-ridden announcer...) goes to great pains to tell you it "immerses you & pulls you right into the centre of the action". "yeah, right" was my admittedly cynical initial reaction, but that was blown away the instant the adverts finished & we moved into the trailers - it might sound like marketing guff, but it's actually genuinely true; you as an individual really are literally put right into the middle of things rather than a member of an audience watching them play out on a screen 50 feet away ! there's the inevitable cheesy 3d-for-the-sake-of-it effect of a robot arm grabbing menacingly three inches from your nose, but for the most part it is highly tasteful, the idea being to give you the experience of being a member of the dive crew yourself rather than being a bystander, whether exploring the ship's wreck or sat in the office round a table discussing the plan. do be warned though if you're somewhat claustrophobic - the scenes in the submersible emphasise just how little space there is inside in a way even an hour squatting in the cupboard under the stairs could not convey. there were actually one or two shots which were slightly uncomfortably close to you, which could just as well for the point they were making be a few feet further back. 

although documentary has a strong pedigree in the cinema, somehow it's never really occurred to me as something to go to as an evening out to the pictures; even the excellent bowling for columbine was one i preferred to watch on dvd at home rather than going out to see.

this is where imax 3d comes into its own, because although you do indeed get the same pictures on your telly, such would be a poor fourth class substitute for literally being there. although critically aclaimed, james cameron took a fair amount of flack for mixing the the history of the titanic disaster up with a mere play, so with ghosts of the abyss he well & truly redresses the balance - this isn't a jolly jaunt down to the sea bed to get a few snaps, this is a proper scientific dive in order to research & document an historic archeological site, the detail is tremendous, with the stories & the heroism of the real people involved woven in to give you a hook to hang your coat off. & for those who still need a bit of drama in their cinema, there's even a real life search & rescue event near the end to keep you on the edge of your seat ! 

so, back to millennium point - people, you've really got to get your publicity act together a bit more in order to pursuade people to go down there, & i mean more than just lots of posters & hanging penants scattered over the place. i went down on both saturday & sunday afternoons, hot august days at the height of the tourist season, & the place was deserted - i would have expected it to have been heaving. of course, the location can't help, as you have to walk down into the less salubrious edge of the city centre to get there (& know exactly where to walk to). hopefully once the masshouse circus redevelopment is finished it will become more seemlessly part of the passing trade, but that's a long way off & still no guarantee - in the meantime you've got to not only tell people you exist but really emphasise just how people can benefit from going there in a more tangible way than 'it'll blow your mind'. 

& to the people of birmingham - having an imax cinema in your town is very much a rare privilege which few people outside of capital cities get the benefit of, which you very much don't know what you've missed until you've experienced it. as the old cliche goes, use it or lose it !

#birmingham #reviews #MillenniumPoint

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