"Superman Returns" in IMAX 3D! Better than 2D?

As if Superman's return to the big screen isn't a big enough event in and of itself, the producers of the film have gone the extra mile with "Superman Returns" by simultaneously releasing it in IMAX 3D. Approximately 20 minutes of the film has been converted from 2D to 3D with IMAX's proprietary digital remastering technology.

For those of you who haven't seen one of IMAX's 3D films, we're not talking about that crappy tech from the '60s that finds you wearing uncomfortable paper 3D glasses with red and blue lenses that just give you a headache. No, not at all. As you enter the theater you're handed plastic (and not uncomfortable, I should add) glasses with almost clear, polarized lenses that bring the 3D scenes to life.

Last night in Los Angeles I attended a 3D screening of "Superman Returns" at the Universal City IMAX theater. Before the show a theater employee told the audience that at four different times during the movie, a green, flashing 3D glasses icon would flash on the screen for approximately five seconds indicating movie goers should don their glasses. When the 3D portion of the film was done, a red flashing 3D glasses icon would flash on the screen instructing you to remove your glasses. Simple enough. To get the audience into the spirit of the things, the three trailers before the film were all presented in IMAX 3D, which had the audience giggling with glee, reacting to the literally "in your face" scenes.

The first time those green glasses flashed on the screen during the screening of "Superman Returns," the audience reaction was odd. Once again, little giggles ran throughout the theater as the audience placed the glasses on their head. As a movie goer, I found this very distracting and it pulled me out of the movie for a moment, but that feeling was quickly reversed once the scenes of the Kent farm came to life in glorious 3D. Believe it or not, these fairly static scenes were my favorite projected in 3D, as it added a very realistic depth to the sprawling farm. It seemed as though the land just went on for miles and miles. Shortly after the scenes began, the red flashing icon came on the screen and the glasses came off.

While that first time donning the glasses may have been a bit distracting, the next three scenes requiring the use of the glasses were far less distracting. The audience got over the novelty and simply put the glasses on their faces without any noticeable reaction. The action scenes are impressive in 3D, especially the middle set piece where Superman saves an experimental shuttle and jet from impending doom. Honestly, the stuff flying at the screen impressed me less than the wider shots in that sequence. At times I felt the fast paced action scenes were came off a bit blurry, but those moments were few and really didn't hurt the presentation. For me, the 3D technology really shone through in scenes like the one where Superman chases after the plane as it plummets to earth. The 3D technology adds a greater sense of distance between the plane and Superman, which does enhance the feeling he's got his work cut out for him. There's another scene at the end where Superman gets a chance to show off his overwhelming strength by lifting a rather large piece of hardware (I'm trying not to spoil the scene for you guys) that is truly impressive in 3D.

I specifically brought two friends with me to the screening that had not seen the film previously. I was curious to see how, if at all, the need to put on and off the glasses would affect their movie going experience and to see if the 3D helped enhance or distract from their enjoyment of the film. Both of my friends said that first scene requiring the glasses was distracting, primarily due to the audience's reaction, not because they couldn't handle some flashing green lights for five seconds. Once we got past that hurdle, they both felt the 3D was a fun addition, but not an absolutely necessary one. It is a little jarring at first, seeing the film with an added depth not normally seen in a Hollywood blockbuster, but you get used to it pretty quickly, they both said. Oh, and I'm happy to report that both friends - one of which is a comics fan, one who's never read a comic in her life - loved the film, although the comic fan did have some nitpicking (don't we always?).

All told, I have to say that the 3D technology used in this screening was a success and not just a novelty. Personally, I feel it would be better to see the film in its traditional presentation first so that you can fully appreciate the depth of the story and the action on the screen without distraction, then for your second viewing (we all know you're going to see it twice) check it out in 3D for a more "enhanced" experience. It's exciting when you realize these are the first baby steps into modern, 3D feature presentations. I'm really curious to see what comes next.

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