So I saw it yesterday at the local IMAX theater. From the very start I was blown away. And I'd already seen it a couple of years ago, sort of. I went to a pre-feature content conference in Los Angeles at a historical movie theater in Hollywood and met the 3ality folks who showed us part of the film that they shot with U2 to pitch this film. They disclaimed the lack of quality, saying it was only a trial run but it was astounding. I felt like I was at the concert.
And that's the way I felt yesterday, during the first song, only more so--and, later, less so. The first song is Vertigo, a track that will get anyone jumping. The speakers were cranked, as the elderly theater manager who admitted me warned. (It had to be a warning, although he worded it as a promise of exciting things to come.) When I say it's better than being there, what I mean is that thanks to the cameras we go places that even the most high-priced ticket couldn't get you into. We hover directly over Larry's drum kit and weave around through Edge and Adam and Bono on stage. And though these are the same shots you see in a "regular" concert film, regular shots don't come anywhere near this experience. This is an entirely new vantage point. Being a drummer first and guitarist much later, I wanted to stay locked in that position over the drums. The 3D technology disappeared and I was actually there, watching Larry smack those drums in his easy style. Cliche though it may be, I really felt like I could touch them. The being there sensation took a back seat after that song, though, and I'm trying to decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I forgot about it and just sunk into the concert itself. And that's what you do at a concert that's really in a movie theater in Salt Lake City. I looked around at the other U2 fans sitting around me, and no one was singing. One guy way below me in the first row was dancing a little and mouthing the words, but other than that no one was moving much at all. I saw a few foot taps but not even any head bobs. I wanted to jump up and start shouting but everyone was so subdued that I even felt self conscious when I noticed myself tapping out all the drum parts along with Larry on my knees. At one point I stopped this and then I thought, who cares? I'm listening to one of my favorite bands--in fact I'm not just listening, but I'm there with them. I can move around if I want to. Another factor that let me loosen up was the fact that the glasses are like blinders on a horse. They're blocked off on the sides so you can only see straight in front of you unless you turn your head. You tell me...is this a Utah thing? Would theater-goers/U2 fans in other cities be so quiet?
Other than the surreal notion that you feel like you're actually at a concert but only virtually that made it seem less like I was actually there, was the film editing. I wonder if I'd feel this way if they had cut from shot to shot rather than using slow dissolves. The latter technique broke the fourth wall and let us know we were watching a movie. On the other hand, the word graphics animated on flat screens for the actual audience were flying at us in 3d space, even, at one point, swirling and weaving around the band members. It was so well done that it seemed like a possible effect at a concert making you wonder why they don't do it at venues. This is something the concert goers missed out on. Neener, neener.
The concert itself was amazing. Much of the content was edited out, I'm sure, to get the film down to an hour and a half, but I didn't go home feeling like they should have played this song or that. It felt complete. One of the reasons for this, for me, was that they played a completely unexpected Passengers song. Bono was even arrogant enough to try Pavarotti's part. I was part turned off by this arrogance, and part amazed that he actually pulled it off!
There are things you can get from this film that you can't get from the concert and there are certainly things that you can get from the concert that you can't get in a theater. Maybe the answer is to go to both. We all know that U2 need the money.