March 15, 2008

Omni Is Awesome

Omnifest 2008 opened at the Science Museum of Minnesota this week. It's not the only film festival of its kind in the U.S., but considering the new theater here, it might be one of the best. Six films will be played in rotation through April 6th:
Everest, Cowboys: Ride Around the World, Roar: Lions of the Kalahari, Indonesia: Dance of Life, Amazon, and The Alps. Here let me just clarify the difference between IMAX and Omni, since it's always a source of confusion. IMAX is the technical term for the type of film, and generally anything you see on a massive screen (Omni or otherwise) is IMAX. The Omni designation is for the type of theater, in this case the dome as compared to the huge flat screen. I'm pretty sure that's it, case closed, but if you're a projector or something and you're reading this, please correct me.

With the exception of
The Alps (which I saw when it was released about a month ago), the other five films are "old favorites." I think I've only seen 1998's Everest, but I definitely want to see Amazon regardless of whether I saw it before. I'm surprised they aren't bringing back any of the three that I consider the best in the last few years: Mystery of the Nile, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag and Rhythms of the World. I didn't get a whole lot out of Hurricane on the Bayou or Greece: Secrets of the Past, but for the most part the last few years have been solid after a post-Everest drought. Fortunately, it looks like there's a Return to Everest planned for next year, along with Arabia and Humpback Whales in the near future.

In the 20 years or so since I had my first Omnitheater experience, it has yet to lose its novel flavor. For my money it doesn't get much better than swooping through canyons and valleys, exploring the depths of the sea, and seeing animals frighteningly close and in their natural habitat. There have been some criticisms of museums as simply using the theaters to make some easy cash, but I see nothing wrong with it. The films are highly educational and usually highly entertaining. Sure, you have to find the right seat (2/3 up, dead center), but that's not different than in a standard theater. Also, the lack of concessions helps with the viewing experience, and people aren't allowed in late. What's wrong with that?


  1. I totally agree that this Omnitheater is a unique and worthwhile experience. And until you actually put it to words, I never realized that the lack of snacks and no late seating are part of what makes it a more focused, and engrossing, time at the movies. Beyond the obivous wrap around dome view. I don't even mind the oooohs and ahhhs from the "kids" in the audience, because I am usually saying ... er I mean, thinking, the same thing. Heheh. I think I got hooked on one they showed a long time ago called Grand Canyon .

    Regarding your mini-reviews, I also left "feeling less-than" from the substance, if not the style, of both Hurricane on the Bayou and The Alps. But most of the ones I have attended have been uniformly excellent. My 2 personal recent(ish) standouts are one you mentioned, Rhythms of the World -- easily one of my favorite movies of the last 5 years in any kind of theater -- and one you did not, Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa, which I thought was awesome; mostly because it just never occurred to me that it is one of the few (the only?) snow-capped mountains on the planet whose base is actually in a tropical jungle, and near the Equator at that. A fascinating, diverse place to make a film. And one in which the "human content" didn't distract me from the wonder of the Earth (unlike, sadly, The Alps ... just show me more than one mountain in the range please!).

  2. Actually, I don't think I realized the no concessions aspects either. Regarding late seating: at times, the journey to your seat in the upper heights of the dome is just a preview of the mountain climbing on screen. I can only imagine the disasters that would result in entering a dark theater with vertigo-inducing images swallowing your vision. Talk about "ahhhs"...

    I thought about Kilimanjaro but ended up passing on it, mostly because it seemed like there were just too many mountain movies in the mix. I thought it was great, and I've actually always wanted to climb it since then. Also, last year I read what is I think of the best articles I've ever read, and it was on Kilimanjaro:

    What are the chances that worked? "Up the Mountain Slowly, Very Slowly," by Tom Bissell in the 10/28/07 NYT PLAY magazine.

  3. I loooved Kilimanjaro. But I haven't been to the Omni at all this year. Shame on me. I will make it a goal this month.

  4. This month during Omnifest might be the time to do it, but they're bring the Star Wars Special Effects film back this summer, too. Definitely excited for old school Star Wars, not the Jar-Jar variety.


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