I’m sitting in the dark excitedly waiting for what will be my third screening of ‘Catching Fire’ to begin. What makes the third time around special you ask? IMAX.
Prior to this screening I had never seen a ‘normal’ film on IMAX before, only short 3D specials before museum exhibits (I was at IMAX Melbourne, which is housed in the same building as the Melbourne Museum), so I had no idea what it was going to look like. I certainly didn’t expect that the rest of the film, given only the arena was filmed in IMAX, would stand up so magnificently on the giant screen. As actors’ faces loom large in front of your eyes you somehow feel closer still to the action and the amount of detail you can take in intensifies, making it a cinch to spot our list of twenty bits you may have missed.
Scenes are magnified; the crowd is louder during the Victory Tour, you can see the incredible amount of detail in every Capitol citizens outfit at Snow’s mansion that ensures no two look alike, Thread’s scream is even more intimidating, the intricate pattern on Katniss and Peeta’s chariot outfits is more visible and the attention to detail in Effie’s costumes is astounding. Every scene manages to sweep you off your feet – I felt like I was watching it again for the first time. Even the ‘simple’ moments like a scene inside seem greater and I came away even more in awe of the production team’s efforts in painstakingly putting together each set with such remarkable detail. I became so wrapped up in the movie again that I almost entirely forgot we were still yet to get into the IMAX footage.
And then the screen widened.
As Katniss was coming to grips with the arena around her so was I, with saucer-wide eyes and goosebumps I absolutely felt like it was no place for the girl on fire. Despite it being my third viewing I was not prepared to feel so overwhelmed and frightened for her, but the IMAX cameras had such startling clarity that the first few minutes in the arena were even more heart-pumping.
When the band of allies runs off into the jungle the cameras come into their own again. The jungle is even more vibrant, beautiful and alive, even though you know it hides deadly secrets within. I noticed fully for the first time red flowers high up in the vines and the foliage of individual plants stands out even more. As they paused to catch their breath I noticed that I could make out each piece of the honeycomb pattern on their arena costumes and as the cannons started to go off the sound effect was so loud I saw several people in the audience jump.
Then there are the deadly horrors of the jungle, starting with the fog. Somehow it was more terrifying and the make-up effects more gruesome. The monkey mutts terrific nightmare-inducing look is magnified again. I thought they looked amazing already but the quality of the CGI alongside the high definition IMAX cameras serves to make them look even more terrifying and deadly. The giant tidal wave is among my favourite effects in the arena and though the film is not 3D Francis Lawrence has produced a feeling of dread as you watch the wave rampage through the jungle, crash into the cornucopia and end by washing over the Victor’s feet. Imagine that wall of water heading towards you on a 32 metre screen!
Johanna is of course a favourite of mine and one of the movie’s scene stealers (though every single actor did a remarkable job, I felt like every character had stepped straight out of the book) and I must say her giant face covered in blood was great. Seeing the beach scene at that size was also incredible, I know this particular scene was a cause of much worry in the fandom but everything about it is perfect and not even enormous 20 metre plus faces ruined it. The fight at the cornucopia is another standout, I thought Francis did such an amazing job with that and I will never tire of seeing it.
And then we come to the arena’s final moments. All of this was put together so well, from the addition of the arguing between the ‘allies’ to Johanna knocking Katniss down and then changing the scene to have Finnick deliver the “remember who the real enemy is” line. In IMAX it all looks better again and you really do feel as if you are on a thrill ride, building up to that huge drop you know comes at the end. One small nitpick I had with the film was some of the CGI as the arena explodes around Katniss, but as strange as it sounds I found this less noticeable, probably because Katniss consumes most of the screen! Given all that is going on around her you barely notice the screen shrinking back to its pre-arena size for the movies final scenes. The very end of the film is also more than worth it in IMAX, with Jennifer’s changing expression as Katniss and the Mockingjay logo reveal just spectacular.
If you felt that you may have been missing that close feel to Katniss and her story then IMAX could be for you. What is already an intense ride only further intensifies, with heightened emotions and visual stimuli that put you right at the centre of the action and the heart of the film. For everyone else, even if you have already seen and dissected the film over and over, I guarantee IMAX will give you a thrill of a different kind. Just the screen widening, let alone the rest of the film, makes it well worth the extra cost of admission.