Six Hundred Kilometres to Watch Nope in IMAX

A movie has to be a journey in itself. A journey through time. A journey through emotions. It should transport us to another level or dimention and leave us there forever. It makes sense to travel hundreds of miles just to watch such a movie. But it didn't begin like that.

It began with a desire to experience IMAX. There is no IMAX theatre in the state of Kerala. For someone from my place, that means a travel to Bengaluru, Karnataka or Chennai, Tamil Nadu. I picked Bengaluru, 100 km shorter than Chennai. But it's still 600 km away.

The next question was, which film? I wasn't after some theme park ride experience, so the movie had to be good too. Something that took advantage of IMAX while still being artistic. Nothing from Nolan was out there. So I decided to watch Jurassic Park: Dominion, hoping it'd be better than its predecessor.

But I had to postpone my travel due to various reasons, and by the time I was free last month, Dominion was gone from nearby (600 km) IMAX theatres.

But the disappointment went away when I saw the reviews. The first film in the franchise, Jurassic Park released in 1993, was a masterpiece. It excelled in many aspects including direction, background score, practical effects and animation. The fact that it gave only a few minutes of screen time for dinosaurs and more than an hour was dedicated for humans made it relatable. The innovation, experimentation, dedication and passion went into the effects made it a flawless spectacle (they studied animals and engineered a Dinosaur Input Device, for instance). Above all, it had a simple and meaningful story to tell.

Despite the criticism, I personally like the second film and have mixed feelings towards the third one and Jurassic World. But in no world can I ever tolerate anything about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Based on the lack of a clear plot and common sense pointed out by critics, Dominion seems more like a theme park ride. I know that the hard work of hundreds or thousands of people goes into making a movie like this, and I appreciate that. But again, when I'm ready to travel this long for a film, it has to be a film.

Then stuff repeated itself. Back in 2019, I was about go see Disney's Dumbo. But I didn't. Although an audiovisual treat, Disney's remakes with the same old happily-ever-after recepes had started to make me reconsider my choices. So I went for Us instead. I knew I was about to experience something new the moment a captivating anthem was played with the image of caged rabbits filling the big screen. That expectation didn't go wrong. The plot was strange and noval. There was a lot to think, but it was enjoyable even when you didn't. By the time I left the theatre, Jordan Peele had become one of my favourite directors.

Now three years later, when I first unintentionally and then intentionally missed a blockbuster, what I got instead was another film from Jordan Peele: Nope. Shot with IMAX, shown in IMAX. That's when I packed for Bengaluru.

This is were some travel experiences go in my original Malayalam write-up. In fact, the original write-up is more about the travel. That may sound silly considering Bengaluru isn't in the poles nor was I going for an expedition or even to visit a tourist attraction. But I couldn't resist it, because I seldom travel like this. In fact, this was the first time I travelled for more than 100 km alone, let alone to a different state, where a different language is spoken.

There were interesting people and events. And strangely there were a lot of contradictions and juxtapositions. For example, in Yeswanthpur railway station, there was a rat and its hole-- a symbol of underdevelopment--under an escalator--a symbol of development. There was a lady in the train who seemed knowledgeable and insightful, but was annoying everybody around even at bedtime showing it off. And to complement it, there was a scene through the windows of the same train: street lights that lit up the sky more than the ground. Exactly like the lady.

Anyway, I don't think I could or should translate the travel aspects of the original write-up. All I want to note here is this: it was a train journey, and the only things digital I had with me were a basic phone and an ATM card. Two nights in train and a day in Bengaluru, it just felt like another half a day trip to Kozhikode. I had enough time to do other activities like buying some books and some camera-related stuff also (this is how I got my first prime lens -- AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D without AF in my D3300 body; it's a great lens, by the way).

Back to the IMAX experience. There are multiple IMAX theatres in Bengaluru, and the one I picked was PVR IMAX at Nexus Mall (formerly Forum Mall), Koramangala. Some online forum posts deem it the best or the second best in Bengaluru. Although that's vague and questionable, I hope it means I'm not describing my IMAX experience with the worst choice.

What is unique to the original IMAX is the 1.43 aspect ratio and a film format bigger than traditional 70mm. But very few films are shot this way. Even when captured so, most IMAX theatres have digital projection and a screen that has the aspect ratio of 1.9. That was the case with this theatre also. Although the ratio and the screen size are good enough, projection somehow felt less bright and unclear. Yes, lots of films nowadays are underexposed, but based on the trailer available online, I suspect the dark and less-clear visuals were due to the lack of laser projection. Being an early digital IMAX theatre, the one in Koramangala didn't have laser installed. Some online forum posts say laser projection is coming soon, but it hasn't happened yet according to the IMAX website.

I did experience some halo around white text shown against black background too (not halo exactly; kind of white shadow for the letters). Although I always experience this with high-contrast text on digital screens, this one felt a bit unusual and annoying. I wonder if laser would make things better.

The projection resolution also felt limiting (could be 2k or 4k). I tried watching from one of the front rows while the credits were running, and I could see individual pixels. Glad I was sitting in the back for the real show. I haven't seen a 70mm IMAX projection (obviously), and I don't know the quality of Nope's digital master, but whatever it is, I'm sure the projection available in an average IMAX theatre doesn't do justice to it. But don't get me wrong; the taller aspect ratio and the bokeh resulting from the large format make Nope's average IMAX experience still worth it. I can only imagine how bad it would look in a regular 2.35 screen, unless the screen is so big and the movie is projected pillarboxed with proper masking.

Now the film itself was great. Lots of interconnected and slow-revealing details. The story has a clear structure despite being mysterious. It is consistent despite being wildly imaginative. Many Hollywood films lack this structure and consistency even when they deal with stock themes. Coming to the craft and execution, everything felt great, especially the visuals. Even the shortcomings that I felt regarding the use of music goes away while listening to the soundtrack exclusively (I remember the tracks Preparing The Trap, The Run Urban Legends, Pursuit, and Nope raising the emotional level of the corresponding scenes). Michael Abels continues to be one of my favourite composers.

Regarding the themes and details, there is still to decode. I do not intend to do an analysis at all. Plenty is available online, many of which are better than what I can offer. But first make sure to watch at least one movie by Jordan Peele. Anyway, I'll tell that the plot and twists of Us felt more clever and surprising. It may have had more plotholes, but the novelty makes us ignore them totally (unlike the plotholes in many blockbusters). Maybe it's the premise. Encountering your whole family's doppelgangers, and the fact that they came to attack you (Us) is way more mysterious and shocking compared to a UAP phenomenon happening even in you backyard (Nope). But if not put in the shadow of Us, Nope's plot is good and the craft is certainly comparable to that of Us.

By the way, the overuse of the f-word felt a bit annoying. Maybe that's normal for the characters and the locality depicted. I have no in-person knowledge to judge.

NOTE: This isn't an exact translation of the Malayalam write-up. In fact, even the themes differ. I've only copied the factual portions related to the Nope IMAX experience here. Travel experiences, observations and thoughts that I hope make the original write-up interesting didn't seem to translate well for non-native readers.

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