3D has been a bone of contention among movie fans for a while now. Much of the criticism levied against it has come when the 3D technology has been slapped onto the movie as an afterthought and cash grab, rather than planned and integrated into the film from the start.
But at an IMAX 3D screening of Robert Zemeckis' The Walk, it suddenly occurred to me: This is everything that 3D COULD be.
The story itself was born to be a visually immersive experience. Philippe Petit's high wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center is something that we could never dream of experiencing, not simply because the towers no longer exist, but because it's an insane, death-defying stunt that none of us would ever have possibly conceived, let alone attempted.
But the nature of IMAX 3D drops us directly into the action. It is the closest we will ever come to knowing what it would be like to stand on a thin, dangerously swaying wire hundreds of feet above the ground and look down at the crowd like ants below, to imagine what it might feel like to stand on a ledge and stare out at the span of nothingness that you'll either conquer or that will kill you. When Petit stares into the abyss, so do we.
But the technology doesn't always have to cater to huge stunts. It works in other, smaller ways, too. When Petit is still making a living in Paris as a high wire walker and all-around acrobat, the IMAX 3D format helps to create the feeling for the audience of being in a street crowd, watching Petit juggle, balance, and unicycle his way around the famous Latin Quarter.
When walking out of the theater, the most common refrains I heard were, "My palms are so sweaty! That was so intense!" and "I feel sick to my stomach...but in a good way!" When utilized the right way, the IMAX 3D format can give you the same feeling as being on a roller coaster - you know that, ultimately, you are safe, but your eyes don't - your body reacts as if you, yourself, are on that high wire with Petit.
I encourage anyone who has a negative opinion of IMAX 3D because they've only ever seen it done poorly or used for spectacle to go see The Walk in this format. It shows the unlimited possibilities of the technology; we've only begun to scratch the surface. Explosions and blockbusters aren't the only movies that can benefit. Sometimes, a simple story about a person daring to do the impossible can be an equally visceral experience.
The Walk is in theaters now.