Four Million Houseguests

on May 09, 1997 by Ann Kwinn
   Four million houseguests sounds like the kind of intrusion that could occur before a wedding or during a natural disaster. In this case, it's the newest IMAX 3-D offering.
   This kind of movie can deliver at least two things: eye strain and hat hair. They are made three-dimensional via a relatively new technique: An infrared light is sent from 36 transmitters at the top of the giant screen to sensors on audience members' 3-D glasses. This sets off the "opening" and "closing" of left and then right virtual shutters in the glasses. The shutter effect is created by liquid crystal lenses that become black and clear. This, of course, all happens very quickly: 95 times per second.
   At a recent California screening at the Edwards IMAX 3-D Theatre at its Irvine 21 Megaplex, director Paul Cox was on hand to answer the important questions of children in the audience, such as, "Where did you get all that stuff?" "All that stuff" includes time-lapse photography of molding fruit, Schlieren photography revealing patterns of heat in the air, reptiles and insects changing color, and the star of the show: fantastic high (up to 40,000x) magnification, high- contrast black-and-white images from an electron microscope that made moths and spiders look like film noir actors.
   Production notes reveal that bringing about the film was as much a research and development effort as a creative one. New lenses and interfaces had to be built for the tasks the team set before them, such as recording electron microscopy for the first time in an IMAX film. Nonetheless, the film conveys a great sense of wonder and whimsy. Through the use of high-tech microscopes and low-tech mechanical toys, it encourages children and adolescents to explore. Cox reminds that "3-D goes in, not just out. It embraces you, brings you in."
   This movie deserves a tremendous kudos for its heavy use of synch sound and an emphasis on character over scenery. The director describes it as "a small film on a very large screen." The tone is purposeful, the movement unhurried. My head nods to the beat of the shutters in my glasses. The movie's personae, including Elly, played by Charlotte Sullivan from "Harriet the Spy," are calm and caring. Contrasting his characters with others, Cox states, "So many people in films are not the kind of people I would like to spend my life with." This is true enough. You just wish that one of these nice people would toss you an aspirin.    Starring Charlotte Sullivan, C. David Johnson, Gosia Dobrowolska. Voice work by James Garner. Directed by Paul Cox. Produced by Mitey Cinema, Sally Dundas, Barbara Kerr and Lorne Orleans. An Imax Corp. release. Documentary/drama. Unrated. Running time: 45 min. Format: IMAX 3-D
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