Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Review: The Walk


Every once in a while a movie will come along that demands to be seen in the theater. With the rise of 3D that began with James Cameron's Avatar, Hollywood has gone all-in on big-screen 3D theater immersion. As more and more movie-goers opt to wait for On-Demand to watch blockbuster movies at home, the studios are trying to engineer experiences that can only be had in a movie theater. Robert Zemeckis' The Walk is the next film in a line of movies that are geared towards big-screen 3D viewing. Like the aforementioned Avatar, Tron Legacy and Gravity, the true biopic of wire-walker Philippe Petit's 1974 traverse across the World Trade Center in New York City is a film that HAS to be seen in IMAX 3D to be fully appreciated.

Zemeckis (along with James Cameron) is probably the biggest technical innovator in recent cinematic history. Starting with Back to the Future and through Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Contact, Forrest Gump, Cast Away and 2012's Flight, he takes pride in pushing the envelope when it comes to visual effects. With The Walk he may have out-done himself by recreating the newly constructed Twin Towers and placing a free-flowing camera in, up and around the entire structure.

The story of this film is almost secondary to the "coup" performed in the final third of the film. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (delivering lines with a very passable French accent) plays Petit as a sort of ornery acrobatic pioneer. Gordon-Levitt is able to convey the youthful enthusiasm of Petit which makes the payoff at the end of the movie seem even more powerful as a young man accomplishes a career goal. The rest of the supporting cast (including Ben Kingsley in a rather forgettable role as Petit's mentor) admirably helps guide the narrative but once Petit and his gang are in NYC, the Twin Towers themselves command the screen as the lead characters.

The scenes in and around the towers are totally majestic to experience in IMAX 3D. The various virtual camera angles that Zemickis chooses help bring the viewer up to the 110th story of the complex along with Petit and his crew. In preparing for the walk there were several shots on the edge of the tower where you IN YOUR SEAT IN THE ACTUAL THEATER feel as if you are a few inches from falling and plummeting to the concrete below. The digital wizardry on-screen is complimented with tension sounds of the wire and the August wind whipping between the towers. I can't overstate this enough. My stomach was in knots for the final 20-30 minutes of this film. I'm not really afraid of heights but I've never experienced a sensation in a movie similar to this. I can't imagine it being anywhere close to the same feeling if I had viewed it without the Real-D glasses on my nose. As with Gravity in particular, the 3D effects help grab the attention of the audience and effectively bring them into the screen as a part of the action.  The only problem here is that the other two thirds of this film are not as immersive. Gravity's 3D sensation was able to grab hold of me from the beginning and never let go. (As I think back to it more-and-more, Gravity is probably the best theater experience I've ever had)

The end of the film (after the walk is complete) becomes a sort of silent memoriam for the World Trade Center. Never before have the two towers been depicted so gloriously on-screen. With the 3D visuals you really do get to feel just how mammoth these structures were and how tied to their city they ended up being (despite an auspicious beginning in the 70's). 9-11 is never mentioned but as a viewer, you can't help thinking about the lives and memories unnecessarily taken away on that day. Zemeckis shows you all aspects of the architectural jewels that were senselessly wiped away from the canvas of Manhattan.

If this type of movie at all interests you (and you can handle sensations of extreme height), then you NEED to see it (*cough* IMAX *cough* *cough* 3D) before it leaves theaters. I doubt I will ever re-watch this film as I feel seeing it at home without the three dimensional depth of a movie theater will not allow the effect duplication of being 110 stories in the air.  Zemeckis (who coincidentally was born exactly 23 years before me) has added another technical marvel to his arsenal of Hollywood wizardry and will hopefully be rewarded by an Oscar. Despite some slow development in the first half of the film, the final act is WELL worth the price of admission and earns The Walk 4.5 JRs out of 5 and a spot as one of the best film experiences of 2015.

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