Every review of How To Train Your Dragon has writ rhapsodic about the dragon-riding flying scenes. I’m not persuaded that they’re all that terrific (possibly because I saw a 2D version) but whatever. As N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott puts it, they recall “the basic, ecstatic reasons you go to the movies in the first place.”
I was thinking “yeah, pretty good” as I watched these scenes, but also that the lizard-bird flying scenes in Avatar were somewhat cooler because they felt a bit more realistic. But the point is made — big-screen movie-watching becomes extra-special when something really “wowser” happens and you’re suddenly six years old again — eyes wide, pulse racing, mouth agape.
If you ask me the greatest theatrically-viewable awe moments this weekend are the two blast-off capturings in Hubble 3D — the fierce orange-white glow of the fuel discharge, the magnificent mega-rumble of the engines, the exploding cloud formations surrounding the gantry. You can’t “get” this from a DVD playing on a 40-inch flat screen, even with amplified sound. You have to see and hear it right through super-bad 3D on a 100-foot tall IMAX screen with super-powerful sound. I’ve heard or read people say “I don’t know” because the doc only lasts 43 minutes, but the launches are worth the price.
The first time I heard someone say that a film was “about awe” was when I came out of my second viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind — a film that I can’t stand to watch any more, incidentally, except for the opening 20 or 25 minutes. But I was viscerally sold on the damn thing (which has one of the highest tallies of deeply irritating ingredients among any of the major event films of the 20th Century) when that first crash of sound and Sonoran desert light hit the screen — precisely at the 1:33 mark in the video below.
This moment didn’t mean or amount to anything except that it excited and delighted. And because it happened quite early in the film — an important thing. A CG-heavy flick like Transformers 2 can wear you down pretty quickly. Awe isn’t awe unless it’s break-out amazing — unless it stops you in your tracks in some way. It has to knock or melt you down. The cancer of CG-driven cinema, of course, is that it goads producers into trying to make films that are about nothing but awe, which results in sensory assaults that are nothing but punishment.
Which have been the great awe moments in films over the last 50 or 60 years? And I don’t just mean “big” technical awe, come to think of it. That plastic bag video I posted yesterday made the grade.