I saw the new IMAX concert film U2 3D the other day. It opens on Wednesday in about 30 IMAX theaters around the country and it will open in digital 3D theaters sometime later.
Full disclosure: I’m not a U2 fan. I don’t dislike them, I just don’t know much about them. Also, I have seen every IMAX 3D film ever made. Literally.
The reason I mention the latter point is that I think that part of the general reaction the film may receive is from people wowed by possibly their first experience of IMAX 3D. It didn’t have the same impact on me, because I’m familiar with the medium.
Anyway, saw the film, and didn’t care for it that much, for a number of reasons.
Music. As I said, I’m not a fan of the band. I recognized their bigger hits, maybe a third of the songs in the set. The Edge is obviously a great guitarist, and Bono’s a great singer. The other two guys are competent, but nothing to write home about, IMHO. Throughout the show, they make the most of the limited instrumentation at their disposal: vocals, guitars, one keyboard, bass drums.
But after five or six songs, I began to sense a certain monotony. After a few more songs, I was looking at my watch wondering when it was going to be over. Sorry, U2 fans, it just didn’t hold me. (I will say I appreciate and generally support the socially conscious message of many of the songs.)
Sound. Maybe it’s my aging ears, or the theater in which I saw it, but I had a hard time understanding a lot of the words. But no, that’s not it: I’m a former sound engineer, and I think they could have done a better job on the mix. Of course, a band’s usual engineers (and its fans, for that matter) already know all the words, and don’t need as much help as newcomers.
Filmmaking. Nothing special. It was shot with the largest collection of digital HD video 3D rigs ever assembled, but it’s basically a standard concert film. Competent, well done, but run of the mill. As I mentioned, the 3D will naturally wow the newcomers to the medium, but not anyone who’s seen a few 3D films.
Also, digital HD is still not an ideal source for IMAX films. It doesn’t have the resolution needed for the giant screen, especially in the wide, detailed shots. You still need to shoot on film to get the best results. Of course, that’s extremely hard in concert films. But they managed to do it back in 1991 for the first IMAX concert film: Rolling Stones at the Max, but that was 2D, not 3D. (U2 3D will probably look just fine on the smaller digital 3D screens.)
Stagecraft. This was one of the more interesting aspects of the film for me, since I spent much of the show trying to figure out how the huge electronic display behind the band worked. It’s pretty cool. But apart from that, and some extension stages Bono and the others occasionally migrated to, they didn’t do as much with the stage as you might expect a major 21st century rock band to do. The Stones Steel Wheel tour set was bigger, better, and more interesting.
The concert experience. The concert was filmed in a huge football stadium in Buenos Aires with crowds that must have numbered in the hundreds of thousands. It’s a simply unbelievable sight, and they’re all having a great time.
But overall, the things I enjoyed about this 90-minute film didn’t make up for the tedium I experienced in the last half.
I’m sure that U2 fans will enjoy it, especially if they haven’t seen IMAX 3D before. It just didn’t do it for me. Sorry.
But I’m looking forward to Shine a Light, a Rolling Stones concert film by Martin Scorsese, which comes out in April, in conventional theaters, and in IMAX.