In-Depth Review
Encounter in the Third Dimension

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Review by Ross Anthony

"Encounter in the Third Dimension" bursts out on the screen ... or should I say off the screen? Many of you may have heard about the newer 3D films that have been playing at IMAX theaters. But have you seen them? You should, and this is the one to see. IMAX theaters which tend to roll more educational films, are often located near museums. "Encounter" offers an education on itself -- the history and techniques of 3-D photography. But don't get the wrong idea -- it's not a dry education. In fact, at every turn twist and protrusion, it's a thrilling learning-ride teachers all over the country will envy.

From the get go, "Encounter" feels like a theme park ride. Opening with the "absent-minded professor" and hovering side-kick Max (a watermelon sized professor-gadget, not unlike another professor's mechanical pal from Flubber). "Oh how to introduce the presentation?" Encounter's professor fumbles around in a fantastically designed studio laboratory. After pressing buttons and flipping switches a "Character generating Gun" finally fires out the letters that spell the title. Each letter floating out and over the audience. It's an awesome introduction to a film that isn't going to let you sit back and relax.

The bumbling Professor is excited to show off his 3-D presentation of Elvira (yes, the Mistress of the Dark....). But, of course, there's still a few bugs in the system. Elvira gets trapped some place between the third and second dimensions. So while he's off trying to free her from the "second and a half" dimension, Max takes the lead... "How many professors does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one, he holds the bulb in the socket and waits for the world to revolve around him." I love that joke -- and it's especially appropriate in this piece. The professor returns, "Max, did you explain the difference between 2D and 3D?" Max puns, "In depth."

Historically, you'll see early 1900's photo's originally shot in 3D. You'll see a clip from the very first 3D motion picture every filmed in which a locomotive storms right off it's tracks into your face. (They claim people were so horrified in 1903 that they fled the theater.) The 3D fad of the early '50's is also presented... including odd 3D clips from Lewis and Martin films to Gandhi.

The black and white footage is broken up with the highest-of-tech, computer- generated simulations that turn this educational experience into virtual reality. You'll climb aboard a shuttle elaborately decorated with 1800's furniture and enter a world wonderfully blending designs from the last 2 or 3 centuries. The set reminded me of Terry Gilliam's, "Brazil" (something I was very pleasantly surprised to find in an "educational picture"). Your shuttle is placed on tracks and rocketed through the planet . And if that doesn't have you swaying from side to side (and wishing you hadn't eatin' that pepperoni pizza for dinner), then the 100 foot chrome spider (clip from Universal's T2 in 3D) will. I swear, when that thing looked me in the eye, slowly pointing its sharp steely feelers out at me, I was more than a little concerned. And when that razor probe of an arm came within 12 inches of my heart -- I wasn't thinking ... "boy these 3-D glasses are goofy" ... I was thinking ... "If that thing touches me, there's going to be lawsuits!"

The film gracefully intertwines education with entertainment. On the few occasions when a conflict occurred with this mission, the makers chose entertainment. For instance, Max attempting to explain what happens when the distance between the two filming cameras is manipulated; removes his eyes and demonstrates, "When my eyes are far apart, the images appear very small -- when I put my eyes very close together, images appear huge." Immediately afterwards we (the audience) are barraged with clips which have been shot with the distance between cameras exaggerated in this fashion. No doubt, you'll think the images are pretty cool, but you might not catch the idea that they are samples of footage shot where the distances between the cameras was manipulated. I'd have suggested placing an icon of each camera over the rolling clips (perhaps where subtitles are normally located). Then as the clips change -- adjust the distance between the icons thus illustrating just which camera distances apply to which clips.

Finally, the professor cleans the bugs from the gadgetry and proudly runs the "Elvira" bit. While I know many of you would gladly slap down the admission price just to see Elvira in 3D, I must say ... though pleasant enough and even "Tim Burtonesque", it shied in comparison to so many of the other equilibrium- challenging samples. Lacking a real climax, the film ends like it started -- a theme ride (you simply wanted to keep going). While you'll have learned a lot along the way, you'll step out of the theater wanting to ride it again!

Go see it.

Starring Stuart Pankin & Elvira
Directed by Ben Stassen
Produced by Charlotte Clay Huggins at nWave Pictures n.v.


Releases at these IMAX theaters...

Feb. 26th (Los Angeles - Cal Sci, Edward's Ontario and Irvine)
March 31st (New York - Sony Lincoln Center)
March 31st (Chicago - Regal and Sony Navy Peer)

Check your local paper for other showings.

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:11:53 PDT