MAXed out

I went, I saw and I’m here to report back on my IMAX outing.

I’ll start off with an aside but something that may prove of interest to those of you who may wish to follow my tracks to a Cineworld IMAX screen near you. After a little research it became apparent it’s possible to use Orange Wednesday 241 codes for IMAX showings. I must admit I doubted this slightly, but thankfully it worked! We still had to pay two lots of the supplementary fee (in our case £4.50) but only one original ticket price. So this took the admission down from an eye-watering £13.10 to an almost acceptable £8.80.

So, once we’d paid our reduced rate we took our place near the front of the queue to enter the 580 seater venue. We’d deliberately arrived over an hour early as this was the first Wednesday “Prometheus” was out and it was only showing once each day in IMAX. The first surprise came when the 3D glasses were handed out, peculiarly this was done in the queue. On receiving the specs, they felt much more solid and were significantly chunkier than the usual ones, that tend to put me in mind of the free sunglasses McDonald’s gave out in the 1980s. Still impressed by this, we were then ushered into the auditorium and I was immediately struck by the size of the screen. Words can’t describe how huge it is, standing at the bottom then looking up to the top you almost fall over backwards it’s so massive. Now, positively buzzing with excitement, I bounded up to the front row in the top level and held the very centre seats against all comers, so we’d have the best view in the house (only fair if we’re reviewing the thing, right?). After a short wait, the lights went down and show began… well the trailers at any rate but the feature followed soon enough.

There I am and there's most of the screen... (photo courtesy of Sanch)

During the trailers we were initially in 2D and the picture was very impressive, the extreme resolution on the concave screen draws you in beautifully, combine this with the unobstructed view from the stadium style seating and you feel a bit like you’re in your front room but you’ve managed to afford that 70” LED screen and are now sat about 3 feet away from it. The surprising disappointment for me was the sound, it’s just so relentlessly loud, especially in the trailers (where I assume it’s deliberately amped up anyway) the audio was so over the top at points it seemed as if the speakers were giving up and the dialogue became quite tinny. I’d go as far as to say it actually hurt at times, which can’t be a plus in anyone’s book.

We then moved to the 3D trailers and these were horrid, particularly the Spiderman reboot effort. While the players were still, everything was alright, but any kind of fast movement (i.e. Spidey swinging action) it all dissolved into a blur. This was most off-putting but I sat in hope that it may abate when we moved to the feature presentation and I wasn’t disappointed, the image was very clean and the 3D was of a good quality.

Now to my big gripe with the picture, my general opinion is that the extra dimension adds nothing to a film and the best you can possibly say about a 3D movie is that you forget you’re watching it in 3D. My issue is you can never say this about “An IMAX 3D Experience” as whenever you tilt your head slightly, reclining back into your seat or sideways against a loved one, you loose the effect and get a partially blurred image. The reason comes back to the different glasses you’re given on your way into the screening, they’re different for a reason… IMAX 3D works differently to the 3D you’d see in a regular screen, known as RealD 3D. The polarisation that allows the glasses to filter the overlayed images for each eye is linear instead of circular, this basically means that, if your head is not level the polarisation fails and you see the unfiltered image. The tolerance on this is very low and completely unlike RealD 3D, which allows the viewers head to move freely while maintaining the 3D effect. This destroys any sense of immersion because, as you relax into the film you move slightly off level and see the image smudge, pulling you back out of story never mind the effect.

In conclusion, I think I’d have to say IMAX is an OK but ultimately disappointing experience that I wouldn’t recommend or go out of my way to repeat. If you can go to see a 2D feature and get cheaper tickets, then it may be worth a look for a decent action based film. Otherwise I’d save some money, and your hearing, by visiting a modern digital projection screen for your regular movie viewing.

P.S. As for Prometheus, it was alright but made little sense. It was well filmed with good characters and was enough fun to justify watching, but it had nothing to hold the attention of a real Sci-Fi fan, with most of the plot falling over at the mere hint of a closer inspection. Catch it on a mate’s BluRay in six months… 7 out of 12.

Turn eyes to MAX

Tomorrow I’m hopefully going to have my first “IMAX Experience”, as they call it, and I’m rather excited about it too.

I’ve wanted to go and see what all the IMAX fuss is about for quite some time now. I’m a regular listener to the Mayo & Kermode Film Review podcast from BBC Radio 5 Live, in which chief contributor Mark Kermode has continually insisted IMAX, and not 3D, is the future of cinema. Combine this with some independent research into the cinematic standard (it’s extraordinarily high resolution, stadium style seating and gargantuan concave screens) and my appetite is whet to the point being positively submerged…

Until recently IMAX screens were few and very far between but I’ve noticed them popping up in many of the cities I’ve visited of late, though I’ve never really had the chance to pay any of them a visit, as I’m usually there to do something else, either that or there’s nothing on I really want to watch. However, with the opening of an IMAX screen at Sheffield’s Centertainment Cineworld complex, one of these mammoth venues is easily at hand, so all I had to do was wait for a movie to come along that would justify the rather costly £13.10 admission.

Enter “Prometheus”, Ridley Scott’s return to the Sci-Fi genre and prequel to the Alien(s) franchise. I saw a trailer for this before a release day screening of “The Cabin in the Woods” and was so impressed by the visual quality and shear scale of the thing I made the decision, then and there, that this would be the one to take my IMAX flower.

Looking further into it, now the time is upon me, the only thing that’s giving me second thoughts is that you can only see it at IMAX in 3D (or threed) but I’m willing to overlook this in this case as it was filmed in threed (so it wont be one of those awful pop-up book looking retro-fits) and I’m hoping the extra umph of the IMAX projection might compensate for the usual dimming effect.

So, there you have it, I’m on the verge of what might be an incredible experience or a rather expensive disappointment. As far as the film goes, I have great confidence in Scott to deliver, if not a classic film, then at least an epic feature. He has a great pedigree for such things and given the cast he has to work with, I feel sure he’ll not let me down. I watched Alien in Hi-Def on my mate’s wall last night too, so I’m all kinds of prepared. Now it’s just a waiting game. I’ll b sure to report back on how it goes, on all fronts.

Roll out your shiniest bells and finest whistles IMAX. I’m coming over there and I expect to be impressed.

A Jubilee Warning

Mmmmmmmmm, children.

Gather ’round friends, and let me tell you a tale. A tale to chill your blood. A tale of power, madness and dogs…

Recently my travails have taken me to the darkest continent of Canadia, a land of wind and ghosts and hockey. There I met a wise woman who told me of the true nature of power and of those who wield it. My friends, read on and know the terrible truth of our very own The Queen:

Born Elizabeth Windsor to unassuming parents from Bromwich, The Queen was noted as a precocious child from an early age. By age 3 she could walk in a manner most regal, and by 5 she could factorise and solve quadratic equations using her colouring book and collection of chubby chalks. It was on her 6th birthday that her parents bought her first dog. A dog that would change the fate of the little island we call INKGLANDD.

The dog’s name was Fg’hanguiw, and was one of those little-legged corgis. Young Liz and Fg’hanguiw became the best of friends, going everywhere together. Even at school the two could not be seperated, any teacher trying to do so feeling a base compulsion to let the young girl and dog be.

It was not long after her 7th birthday that her parents began to notice a certain change in Liz. A blackness to the eyes, reminding them of the documentaries they liked to watch on Shark Week. Few could now resist the commands of the girl. She had already commanded the villagefolk to craft her a hat of the finest gold and jewels, and a cloak of flowing ermine. Over the next few months three more corgis gathered around the young girl, although where they came from the villagers of Bromwich could not tell. Named Shas’yargj, Mrkufgh and Wiggles, the three joined their elder brother and were never seen apart from the young Liz.

Slowly Elizabeth’s influence grew, more and more villages falling under her thrall. Calling herself The Queen (for she had renamed herself after her favourite band), her demands grew more and more improbable: to be present at the opening of parliament, a castle in london, a tower to imprison traitors to her reign. Soon the whole country was under her control, bowing and scraping to her every whim. However, it was by this point that the citizens noticed that Fg’hanguiw was no longer present at The Queen’s side for public appearances. Some servants at the Royal palace claim to have witnessed the dog yapping at the monarch before folding in on itself and disappearing in a puff of mathematics.

Of the three remaining corgis, none were seen again. Occasional yelps, barks and the clatter of chains were said to be heard in the lowest dungeon of the Tower of London, but nothing more.

Over the next five years The Queen’s power waned. In desperation she purchased corgi after corgi, even going so far as to sell her ‘crown’ and several grandchildren to fuel her corgi addiction. Vast corgi corrals in Whitechapel held her collection, but none of the animals held the power that those first four pups did.

Without the influence of the otherworldly dogs, she could no longer command her subjects. Her power exhausted, she is now but a pale shell of a human, given an honorary position as nod to our subjugated past.

Despite what history might say, this is the true story of our monarchy my friends. Remember it well, for you are now one of the select few who know the terrible truth.

An Open Invitation

As a fully paid up member of Geek club I have sunk too much money over the years into trading card games, only to be unable to compete with players who can afford to sink yet more money into the game for those overpowered rare cards. And yet I never learnt my lesson, and whenever a new one that looked interesting came around I’d be right back into the cycle.

Enter Fantasy Flight Gamesliving card games. If you’re not familiar with the format it is essentially a trading card game with an important distinction; all of the ‘boosters’ ‘ contents are already known, and usually supplied at the maximum amount allowed in a deck. No more costly chase for that one rare card that would really make your deck. There are also plenty of places to plan your deck online, meaning you can plan future purchases to gradually improve your deck.

What really pushes the FFG LCG format over the edge for me is the support for the online community and OCTGN. OCTGN is an online tabletop tool which allows you to play your favourite card games against your friends online. The best part is the aforementioned support by FFG. They allow use of all but the latest booster packs on OCTGN.

Which leads me to my open invite.

I know a few of us already play the A Game of Thrones LCG, and I propose an online tournament (or league if we can get enough players) through OCTGN. I am more than happy to teach people to play and use OCTGN. I suggest that we all play each other either best of three as a small tournament or perhaps twice in a league, with the winner taking 1 point and matches taking place once a week over OCTGN, and I will provide a chapter pack of your choice for the player with the most points when it’s all done.

I’m also going to try to live stream / record and narrate some games since it is all done online.

So what do you think?  Why not leave your WWE style call outs in the comments below and lets get this going…

White Space

A blank page. To a writer, or even a “wannabe” like me, there’s nothing more hopeful yet and simultaneously intimidating in the whole world. The white expanse stretches out before you, full of infinite possibilities but devoid of even the slightest hint on how to uncover the embarrassment of riches you know lie within. To even attempt the expedition involves risk, an expenditure of time, of course, but also to one’s reputation. It’s one thing never to try but quite another to come back empty handed or, even worse, having filled the space with something your peers consider “worse than nothing”.

I write this by way of excuse for my shameful lack of copy presented on this website by myself in the last… well… since we started. Sure I’ve written some, but nowhere near as much as I should. I have, of course, had a great many good ideas for articles and interest pieces (and not all of them involved reviewing things or Live-Blogging) but most have remained just that… ideas. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that ideas are the easy bit. If there are two things I’ve learned, then the latter is that I almost always do the easy bit and leave the graft until that infinite ‘morrow that never seems to arrive.

Blank Page
We didn't write anything deliberately... so there!!

So, with the preceding paragraphs in mind, where do we go from here?

Well, I can see this going one of two ways. Either it’ll be akin to my exercise cycle, whereby I have one reasonably successful session, realise it makes me feel much better and I should do this more often. I’ll then swear to do it all the time and be sincere when I day it, but six weeks later I’ll still the same pot-bellied under-exerciser my mid-twenties left me as. The alternative is that it could go the other way and I might actually start to fulfil some of the potential I’m sure is in my head… somewhere.

I guess you and I had better hope the latter come to pass, else this is all we’re gonna see at the top of this page for a while to come and I’ll just sit here, in front of the TV, getting angry that nothing ever changes but never doing anything to make it happen.

Minecraft it and they will come

So, it’s been a while and a godd few releases, it must be time to do a mass Minecraft again right. Well yes sir, indeed it is and here we are doing it. Apparently there’s an end game now (something about a Dragon and a portal to the Nether) and there’s a shed load of new stuff to do. I’ll try and take some screenshots and document our discovery of the new features we see, and of course I’ll show you all the stupid crap we make and destroy too :o)

Let the craftin’ commence!!!

‘t i’n’t in’t’ Tintin

Having just returned from watching the new CGI, motion capture, animated movie “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”, I must say I had a rather fun, if slightly unfulfilling, time. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s certainly a film worth seeing, however it left me feeling a little like the characters on screen, pretty good on the surface but hollow on the inside.

French Live-Action Tintin
At a glance you'd think these were real people, but they're actually French.

As a child I was a fan of the Tintin cartoons and I enjoyed the occasional Hergé comic too, it was the adventure of it all that I loved. Ever since I’d heard of it’s inception I’d been looking forward to this movie. The knowledge that Spielberg and Jackson were on board only served to heighten my anticipation that this could be a classic. The trailers helped too but also made me a little fearful as, it must be said, the characters do look a bit odd. They’re right on the line between real and stylised, sinking to the deepest depths of the Uncanny Valley and freaking the willies out of you at a glance. As a disclaimer I’ll just say; This does fade during the action but every now and then your brain realises and does a little “Urgh!!” in your head to remind you.

I’d also like to state, for the record, that we were forced to watch the movie in 3D*. None of our party wanted to see the movie in any more than the usual two dimensions but the final 2D showing anywhere in driving distance was at 18:30 and that’s just a touch too early for us working folks.

So, with mixed feelings but high hopes (and 3D premium paid), I made my way in and settled down, wearing two pairs of glasses on my face.

The movie starts quickly, with a nice in joke and some incidental crime. We’re then immediately introduced to the plot’s MacGuffin, the titular “Unicorn”, and, seconds later and unmistakably, the villain of the piece. This is a good start and the breathless pace continues throughout the whole movie. Clues are presented, people appear, that piece of the puzzle is put together, action happens and it’s all done extremely slickly, with great style and flare. Some of the “one shot**” action sequences are especially well accomplished, flowing from one set-piece to the next with only the briefest of time to digest what you’ve seen before the next section of  beautifully rendered CGI slaps you around the chops and shouts “Boo!!”. It really is an irreverent adventure movie from start to finish, punctuated with some good jokes and a standout performance from Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock. (When will they give that man an Oscar??)

My only real criticism would be that everything just seems to happen. I realise this is Tintin and, to a point, the only remarkable thing about him is that things just seem to happen to him all the time but we really could have done with a little more explanation or thought on the part of our protagonist before things dawn on him. Simply pointing skyward and connecting A to E without the intermediary steps of B,C and D comes off as far too convenient. Unfortunately this extraordinary instinctive ability to put clues together in an instant and then give the most cursory of explanations persists throughout the film. This does wane as the story progresses, but that’s more because action is thundering along with no need for connecting the dots than any conscious attempt to fill in the blanks.

Another point I’d like to raise before rounding off is that some things did literally just happen. Two examples that immediately spring to mind; The first being when Tintin, for no appreciable reason, goes to a “deserted mansion” that just happens to be the Haddock family home and where the main villain, unbeknown to our hero, is in residence. The second is when a tank chases Tintin, Haddock et al though a Middle Eastern city. It just happens to appear right behind them half way down the hill and, bizarrely, encase in a hotel’s entrance hall. Both of these glaring examples lead me to believe that an extended cut (similar to those of the Lord of The Rings movies) may be on the cards for the DVD/BluRay release. Jackson at least has a history of such things and it might help resolve my earlier criticism too…

In conclusion then, this movie is bags of fun and visually spectacular. Just let the pace of the film to you, don’t think about things too much and you’ll love it. Score = 7/12.

*Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 3D added nothing but a few pounds to the cost of our evening’s entertainment.
**These are presented as “one shot” but, due to the nature of the movie, are simply effects shots without cuts, so don’t really count. They look very nice though…