The future is virtually French

Gerard Gilbert experiences a cinematic assault on the senses at the Futuroscope theme park

If you want a good idea of the how the proposed Victoria & Albert museum extension will look - it resembles a spilled bag of children's play bricks - then take exit 28 off the main Paris to Bordeaux motorway and follow the signs to Futuroscope.

Half-buried glass cubes, suspended white spheres and hemispheres and strange crystalline shapes suddenly emerge out of the flat, featureless Poitou countryside - Arthur C Clarke meets a rather naff French industrial estate in the middle of some comme-ci, comme-ca farming country. Welcome to Futuroscope - or, as it is subtitled, the European Park of the Moving Image.

Cinema as virtual reality is the name of the game. There are 16 huge screens, one the size of two tennis courts, another in a hemisphere above your head (the seats recline), another in a 360 band that surrounds you. They throw the viewer into the middle of the action - floating hundreds of feet above a rain forest, hurtling though space in a NASA Shuttle, or wandering among shoals of fish on a coral reef. Armchair adventurers look no further.

Some of these "armchairs" shake, rattle and roll, however, simulating movement on hydraulic jacks. On one "ride" you seem to do several laps of an extremely hairy motor racing circuit, and ride on a motorcycle through the narrow streets of a local French town before leaping from its ramparts. This virtual town doesn't welcome careful drivers.

A good way to relax after all that is on the Magic Carpet, which uses two giant 700-metre square screens - one under the spectators' feet - to give the illusion of floating. Vertigo sufferers should not look down, although you might want to avert your eyes completely at the sight of a 30ft Monarch butterfly lava pupating out of its exoskeleton.

Several of the screens at Futoroscope are Imax (derived by its Sony-owned Canadian creators from "maximum image"): full-frame 70mm film runs horizontally, the idea being to reproduce the excitement which had the audience running from their seats when a train hurtled towards them in the celebrated Lumiere film of 1895. More often, however, the sensation is one of wonder.

Futuroscope was the brainchild of Rene Monory, now president of the French Senate, but back in 1984 a local politician. Built with a combination of public and private finance, it opened in 1987. The annual number of visitors has grown from 225,000 then to nearly three million last year, and Futuroscope, with its allied technology park, is now the single largest employer in the department of the Vienne.

An imperious and pragmatic "can-do" Gallic politician, Monory was briefly in Futuroscope during my visit. He was attending the opening of the park's latest attraction, a 600 square metre Imax 3-D cinema, which is screening Guillaumet: Wings of Courage, the first film in this format by a mainstream director - Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Lover, Name of the Rose). The film's mountain scenery seen through the comfortable plastic wrap-around 3-D glasses (forget the old cardboard affairs) is suitably impressive, although I was more taken with the interiors, whose shorter focal lengths are more suited to 3-D. Human figures become rounded, almost tactile; it can't be long before the sex industry takes notice.

The other 3-D experience is the Solido, which takes you underwater to have starfish slither in your lap (people started trying to brush their laps at this moment) and come to nose to nose with a battle-scarred shark.

The park itself, however, is bracingly unthemed for a theme park, and I found it refreshing not to be mobbed by giant-sized Mickey Mice and Donald Ducks (although faintly disturbed to have the soundtrack from Psycho being piped out of the flower beds). An American friend, brought up on trips to Disneyland was, however, disappointed by the lack of razzmatazz, a lack which stretches to the park's hotels, comfortable but anonymous chain names likes Ibis and Novotel.


When to go

The park is open 9am-7pm daily during the summer. A two-day ticket is Fr290 (about pounds 37) for adults, and Fr225 (about pounds 29) for under-16s (under- fives go free). Two days would be pushing it, however - you could cover most attractions in one.

How to get there

SNCF has an offer of pounds 89 for return Waterloo-Poitiers rail tickets. You take the Eurostar to Lille then change trains. Trips must be made before 15 September and you must spend three nights in Poitiers. More details on 0990 717273.

Who to ask

Futuroscope: 00 33 49 49 30 00. Poitiers tourist information 00 33 49 41 21 24.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants