Apollo 13: Up close and personal

JIM SLOTEK

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Years after my first IMAX joyride, I still get a childish shiver watching the intro with holographic laser-glyphs spin on the mega-screen to a cheesy dance-pop soundtrack -- as if my brain "knows" I'll soon be flying through canyons or through space.

With that in mind, Apollo 13 -- the movie Tom Hanks should have won an Oscar for -- sounds like a pretty good choice as the first Hollywood feature film to be translated onto the 10-times- wider filmstock of IMAX.

But here's the surprise. It's not the thriller-in-space aspect of the film that gets especially amped on the eight-storey screen (though the moon fly-by, explosions and rocket-booster separation scenes are pretty stunning when spread from coast-to-coast across your retinas).

What Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience does is underline in broad strokes what a claustrophobic film Apollo 13 actually was, with the action largely confined to the command module and -- after the catastrophic shipboard explosion -- the jury-rigged lunar module/lifeboat. Every bead of sweat on the brow of astronauts Lovell, Haise and Swigert (Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon), every pore, every emotional tear, every drag taken by Ed Harris' chain-smoking Mission Control administrator, is the star of its own show.

(And in a critical aside, every flaw in the film or mote of dust on the celluloid suddenly becomes as big as an African leech, threatening to suck Bacon's brain out his nostril. It was the one real distraction in the screening I attended).

Suffice to say that after seeing this movie in IMAX form, you'll be more acquainted with the tiniest details of Tom Hanks' face than his wife is.

Things are almost as claustrophobic on the ground, where loved ones and NASA technicians come off as gigantic fonts of emotion, particularly next to the comparatively-stoic astronaut mugs. Where they seemed merely distraught in the original 35mm format, Kathleen Quinlan as Marilyn Lovell, and Mary Kate Schellhardt and Emily Ann Lloyd as her two daughters sob tears so large you feel you need a rain slicker.

This emotion-amplification is something I'd never considered when reading about the IMAX project. The next one up apparently is Star Wars 2: Attack Of The Clones. And who knows? At that level of magnification there might even be evidence of actual emotion between dubious lovebirds Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman.

It also means that if they ever get around to converting a real weeper like In The Bedroom to IMAX form, suicide prevention counsellors should be standing by in the lobby.

(This film is rated PG)


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