For a medium with such admirably ambitious intentions, 3-D cinema has never been able to shake off its image as the goofy swot to its 2-D big brother. The 3-D flick had a good idea, for sure, but, boy, it never let you forget the fact. During its early Fifties heyday barely a scene seemed to go by when an audience, peering through its red and green specs, wasn't expected to sidestep some monster's lunge or duck out of the way of an oncoming train.
Cut to the Nineties and Imax has bravely taken up the 3-D baton. Wisely, the Canadian company has chosen not to throw all its eggs into the 3-D basket and has concentrated largely on the development of a two-dimensional cinematic image of impressive scale and clarity. A film frame 10 times larger than 35mm and three times the size of 70mm is projected on to an eight-storey-high screen which, in combination with a superb sound system, does indeed manage to deliver both epic vistas and minute detail.
A number of 2-D films on show at Imax's Bradford and recently opened London theatres puts this technology through its paces, but the star attraction is Imax's 3-D spectacular, Across the Sea of Time - A New York Adventure, available in the UK only at its London Trocadero theatre. But, despite the technical quality, it's the same old problem, I'm afraid: never mind the quality, the film breathlessly says, feel the depth.
A schmaltzy quest tale, Across the Sea of Time tells the story of a young Russian stowaway landing in New York to find his family. Besides the apparently de rigueur first-person rides on subway trains and rollercoasters, however, the rub lies with the interior and close-up scenes, which reveal both 3-D's strengths and its limitations. The headset which, during the 53- minute film's longueurs, begins to sit heavily on the brow, comes into its own here, wonderfully mapping out intimate exchanges. At the same time, these scenes contrive to feel claustrophobic, the visual dimensions of the film bearing down on the viewer in place, it seems, of a sense of real dimension in any of the characters.
On this evidence, the addition of an unwieldy third dimension still seems more a burden than a boon, as gimmicky as any other thrill the Trocadero can supply.