Scott's Note: I attended the great new IMAX experience film with Will and his wife last Thursday night. I had planned on reviewing the film, as well, but I can't top what Will has offered up, as it's the best review I've read on the film.
It's often hard to separate the medium from the message. McLuhan aside, one of the problems of IMAX has always been the technology itself. Instead of making good films, they made showy ones that were more "wow" than good. It's all well and good to make nature documentaries, to show the Space Shuttle climbing and to feel that 12,000 watt rumble as it does so, but the types of things they did seldom made me want to watch. Yes, it was possible all along, as the found drama of "Everest" proved that emotion was as gripping as any amazing vista. My friend Goldy says that everything can be described in three words and IMAX is "big, pretty Discovery."
It was worse for the IMAX 3D. While the technology obviously worked, the films got further away from good, relying on even more wow. There has been a bit of a shift from Hollywood as technology has made it cheaper and easier to shoot for IMAX 3D. The Harry Potters and Beowulfs of the world have made it more interesting and pulled the good back alongside the wow.
So forgive me if I start by being a bit surprised to see "Entertainment" next to the "National Geographic" logo at the start of this film. It seems more likely that the old National Geographic would have taken shots of whales or kangaroos than Bono and Edge. Instead, the marriage of new 3D technology and good old fashioned rock n' roll make "U23D" the first must see of 2008.
There are some wow moments when Bono first goes Count Floyd and reaches out towards you. Not at the audience, not at the camera, but the technology -- goofy glasses and all -- works, because you flinch. There's some chintzy glitter being thrown to remind you that it's 3D, some amazing crowd shots that give intense depth, and a few more trick shots at the beginning, but by the third song, you've almost forgotten that it's 3D. You're there, in the best seats anyone could ever have. You can see the sweat on Adam Clayton's neck. You can watch the ice melting in Larry Mullen's orange drink. You can really see the subtlety of Edge's magic left hand as he plays the guitar.
And of course, the 3D works wonders for Bono. The consummate frontman has always been the centerpiece, the showman, the preacher, the eye magnet, and he plays the 3D camera as well as his Argentinian crowd. He's been the same larger than life character since I first saw him on the October tour and while he's not nearly as over the top as was demanded of The Fly, he's still most definitely a rock star. At a panel at the World Economic Forum, he introduced himself as "a rockstar, kinda." If he's not, no one is.
So while the movie is a must-see, five-star, tell-your-friends experience, Scott and I left the movie debating whether anyone else could do this. Scott's conceit is that the modern music industry doesn't lend itself to rock stars, to the universal appeal of a band like U2. Is he right or more plainly, who is left to take over the mantle from the great bands of the past thirty years - the U2's, the Springsteen and E Street's, even R.E.M. for a moment.
I think there is. I'm not sure who or how, but there's always going to be a rock star. I'm not sure if it's so much a popstar, though I think that Justin Timberlake might be the Michael Jackson of this era (absent, we hope, the full meltdown and legal problems.) That of course would make Timbaland the Quincy Jones and that might not be far off. Could Coldplay pull this movie off? Could John Mayer? Could Fall Out Boy? Not yet, but I think there will always be at least one band out there that can. The music industry might be falling apart, but it will rebuild itself with music.
So I give this a full-on thumbs up, both for the music and the medium. It's a worthy reason to seek out your closest IMAX venue because you're never going to get closer to the feel of a U2 show than this. I've seen them five times and it surprises me to say that this was the best.
Scott's Note Pt. 2: I give the film a big thumbs up. My only criticism was that the sound should have been louder, as the visuals were far better than you could see if you would have been there, but the lack of volume kept the film from being even greater. Still, it was a completely unique experience.