Days out: Emma Haughton and her family travelled to France for a slice of reel life
It is no surprise that the French coined the term "avant-garde". Futuroscope, the Poitiers-based theme park devoted to the moving image, brings together all the cutting-edge techniques of the cinema and houses them in the kind of futuristic buildings that many modern architects would be hard pushed to outdo.

But there's no time to stop and gaze at the jumble of organ pipes or the giant black-glass crystal that dominate this weird landscape. The park has 20 more animated visual gimmicks, including a screen the size of a seven-storey building, a dome-shaped cinema which uses liquid crystal goggles to give its images the illusion of solidity, and an under-floor screen which creates the uncanny impression of being airborne. There is also a giant 3D cinema, an enormous domed screen which gives its fish- eye film an extraordinary breadth of vision, and the synchronised seats of the simulators that deliver all the thrill of a bumpy ride with none of the spills.

The visitors

Emma Haughton, a freelance writer, and Jonathan Rees, supply teacher, went to Futuroscope with their sons: Joshua, six, Flan, four, and Zachary, two.

Joshua: The space film was boring because Daddy forgot to get headphones and I didn't know any of the French. I liked the moving cinemas even though I wasn't allowed on the seats. I had to sit on the steps to watch the film, but it was still good.

The Imax 3D was really realistic. You put on these glasses and it was like being in the room or the aeroplane with them, it was really close, but if you took the glasses off it looked all fuzzy. I thought the magic carpet was quite realistic too - you feel like you are floating through the air. In another film you really feel like you are going through space.

Flan: There were lots of the cinemas, but only one was boring. In one film if you took the glasses off the people had two heads, but if you put them on they only had one. There was another one where the cinema pretended to be on the ceiling, it had a big round roof where we saw the film. I hated that one because it was too long, but I liked the bits where you see all the little stars and big stars coming out into space and then coming back again to the earth. I didn't know space looked like that. That cinema was good too, because I was sitting above Mummy and I could lean down and say 'I love you'.

Jonathan: I was very impressed with all the effects, but could have done without the lengthy introductions beforehand. They would appeal to real cinema enthusiasts, but I wanted to be thrilled rather than informed. While the kids did enjoy themselves, I think the language difference and sophistication of most of the films makes it more suitable for older families.

My favourite was the Omnimax dome, where the film was shown all round you. It was very intimate, you felt very involved, although it did make me feel a bit sick. I thought the 3D cinema was especially good for the indoor shots - you really felt like you were in the room with them but I found the story itself a bit dull. At the end of the day I would rather watch a good film on the telly than lots of special effects.

Emma: Even though we went mid-week and off-season, there were the inevitable queues. I found the waiting laborious, but judging by the barriers snaking across the entrance to the simulators, the 30 minutes I endured was nothing. The rides themselves were great fun: suffering from incurable vertigo, I would never go near a rollercoaster, so it was wonderful to experience all of the sensations with none of the anxiety.

Sadly, our day was marred by the attitude of many of the staff. After all his patient queuing Joshua proved to be a centimetre too short for the simulators and was rather brusquely ordered to sit on the floor, and there were a number of other instances when the French idea of hospitality left much to be desired. When you've paid pounds 50 for a day's entertainment, you feel entitled to a little US-style obsequiousness.

Nevertheless, I had a wonderful time. I'd expected an assault on the senses rather than the emotions, but ultimately found the films rather than the technology made it a day to remember. Many of the images were achingly beautiful: the giant screen filled with millions of gorgeous Monarch butterflies and the panoramic vision of the developing universe projected all around us were unforgettable.

The deal

Getting there: By road, the journey from Calais to Futuroscope takes roughly six hours: take the RN10 or A10 autoroute and leave at exit 28. By train the journey takes 90 minutes from Paris on the TGV - for 40 francs you can take a shuttle to the park. Alternatively Poitiers-Biard airport is just 10 minutes away.

Admission charges for a one-day pass vary from 140 francs (about pounds 14.70) for adults and 110 francs (about pounds 11.50) for children (5-16) off-season, to 180 francs for adults and 145 francs for children during weekends and summer months. Since there's a lot to pack into one day, this seems fairly good value for money. As part of the park's 10th anniversary celebration, 10-year-olds are currently admitted free.

Facilities: There are five reasonably priced restaurants and three cafeterias, although you can also bring in your own food.

Advice: Plan carefully beforehand to fit the main attractions into one day - many films are shown at set times and some are over an hour long. Measure your kids carefully: the 120cm height restriction for the simulators is rigorously enforced. Guard your translation headphones like your life, especially if you leave your passports as deposit; when Flan's headphones disappeared with a neighbouring child we had to get tres serieux with an official to recover our passports without the threatened 1,000-franc bill.

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