There's a certain rush of anticipation when entering the TI Founders IMAX Theater at The Science Place and seeing the 79-foot domed screen come into view -- in front, above, and around. It's like waiting in line at the roller coaster. The next train is coming down the tracks, and there's just enough spots to include you. The ride will be intense, but it's worth it even if it doesn't last long enough.
When the IMAX film begins, it's as though everything else disappears. The huge screen and surround sound envelop the audience, throwing them into experiences like diving into the Grand Canyon or exploring the tombs in Egypt. It's a trip to another time and place, but for only 40 minutes and at the cost of $6.
On the State Fair's opening day, The Science Place offers its newest IMAX film, The Magic of Flight, which takes the viewer into the cockpit and onto the wing of the Blue Angels flying team. The film, narrated by Tom Selleck, balances information and adventure, technology and thrill. It shows the basics of flying, from bird wings to the Wright Brothers to how Harrier jets are designed to take off and land like birds. The Magic of Flight has plenty of scenes of flying over water and land, but these standard IMAX shots are matched with amazing segments shot during Blue Angel flights. There are cockpit views of the spirals, vertical rolls, and close calls with other planes. Cameras on the wings show the Angels' classic V-shaped Delta Formation and other tricks. Most nerve-racking, however, is watching the Angel pilots contracting muscles to keep blood in their heads so they don't black out from the G-forces, and a simulation of the consequences of losing control and the stages of blackout.
The Magic of Flight is best when it puts the viewer into the cockpit. As a jet lands on the aircraft carrier, the cockpit camera footage makes viewers feel the anchor pulling on the plane as it stops.
But for all the Blue Angels and jet excitement, the movie only touches on the turbo-thruster plane and the trick flyers who perform with the Angels at air shows. There's plenty of distant footage of aerobats flying backward, doing small loop-de-loops, and other tricks. A cockpit camera in one of those aircraft as it does close loops in a cloud of smoke or spirals toward the ground would definitely enhance the film. For all its well-executed tricks and pilot anecdotes, the film could use a little more daring and a little fewer shots of geese migration.