March 15, 2008
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?