It's been a looooooooong three weeks since I've seen my family.

They took a family vacation with a whole posse of immediate relatives in every direction in Argentina, while I was here working.  They had been gone for just over a week and a half when I left for Austin to attend SXSW. 

They got back while I was gone, and when all was said and done, it wasn't until about 5:00 on Saturday afternoon that I got to see them for the first time in what I think is the longest I've been away from all three of them since my second son was born.  I think the shooting of "Pro-Life" may have actually been longer, but that was before Allen.  And I remember that being really emotionally difficult.  This time, it was torture.  Absolute low-grade agony for the whole trip.  I really depend on the time I spend with them.  There are all sorts of reasons, and one of them certainly is enjoying movies with someone, which any film fan knows is better than watching them alone.

Some of my fondest memories of seeing films as a kid are films that I saw with my parents.  Or with one parent or the other.  I know people who can tell you exactly what theater they saw every film in (hello, Scott Weinberg).  For me, I can trace my formative years in film by who I saw films with.  Because it was always me, pushing people to see things.  I made the strangest requests, and I saw a lot of films simply because people were so curious why I would ask to see something in the first place.  Sure, there were films my parents took me to because they were the "right" movies for kids.  Like Disney films, obviously.  But they also took me to a lot of films that they were interested in seeing, and as a result, I think I "grew up" cinematically sort of fast.  Which is important.  I think my attitude towards what film is and what it can be and what I like about it all depends on those post-"Star Wars" years where I really started asserting my own taste.  Since my job entails so much movie viewing, it's something that I obviously hope my sons will be interested in.  If they're ever not interested in movies, I am totally fine with that, but it would be nice if they wanted to go see what I'm seeing.  Right now, they're too young for most things I see theatrically.   It's going to be a while before anyone's joining me for "Last House On The Left" or "Shortbus."

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But the right movie, Toshi's game.  He's going to be four soon.  And he asks to go with me every single time I leave for a press screening.  So when I can take him, he gets really into it.  He plans for days.  He talks to me the night before about popcorn and juice, even as he falls asleep.  I figured taking him to see a movie would be a great way to catch up after time apart.  The hour drive to and from The Bridge is all time we could talk about his trip to Argentina, and sure enough, he told me stories which made a deliciously Tex Avery-style sense, the way only toddlers can.  Once we got there, we were able to walk right in.  They were letting each kid in attendance pick a stuffed animal before going inside, and Toshi immediately grabbed a big blue Bob.  He knew the name before anyone told him, which surprised me since he's only ever watched the trailer once or twice.  He's getting marketed to in ways I'm not even noticing, I think, which is sort of freaky when you see what a grip it has on your kids.  Makes you wonder how much unconscious grip marketing in general's got on you, doesn't it?

Anyway, I specifically wanted to bring him back to the Bridge, since that's where we saw our last 3D film together, the IMAX 3D "Under The Sea."  We had a great experience with the 3D glasses on that trip.  Of course, that film's under an hour long, and it doesn't feature any monsters, so Toshi's ability to enjoy that one didn't necessarily mean he'd be able to hang with this.  And even if he's enjoyed movies like "Wall-E" and "Kung-Fu Panda" and "Speed Racer" in the theater, those movies weren't in 3D IMAX, which is the single most all-encompassing visual format I've ever seen.  It can be overwhelming for adults, but for a kid Toshi's age?  It's got to be like virtual reality.

When we got inside, he remembered immediately that this is where we'd seen "Under The Sea."  He told me how scared he was of the sharks in that film, and how close they'd gotten to him, and he told me that the glasses made the sharks get him, so he didn't want to wear the glasses again.  Fair enough, I suppose.  He kept telling me how he wasn't going to wear the glasses right up to the moment the lights went down, and as soon as he did, the glasses went on, as did mine.

Reviewing any film you see in this format requires a church-state separation, two distinct halves of a review.  First, there's the experience, and that's what I'm writing about today.  The review for the movie itself will be later in the week, closer to the actual release.  I'd say Jeffrey Katzenberg may not have reached his goal of 5000 3D screens in America, but he definitely delivered on creating something that makes a persuasive argument for the visceral thrill that only 3D IMAX can accomplish.

"Monsters Vs. Aliens" features several major set pieces, and there's one in particular on the Golden Gate Bridge that uses space and depth in a way that is dizzying as it pulls you into the middle of the action.  And it was amazing to watch Toshi react to it.  He didn't just watch the movie... he rode it.  He actually dodged and ducked and swatted at it, sitting next to me, then sitting on my lap, then even taking off the glasses once or twice, just to avoid something particularly intense.  It was a physical theme park experience for him, and at the end of it, as we were walking out, people were lining up for the second press screening of the day.  Toshi walked down the line, and as he passed each kid, he loudly said, "That was AWESOME!"

I think the technical presentation of what I saw today was above reproach, absolutely spit-polished, and I was hugely impressed by it.  Between watching how much Toshi reacted to the film and watching the way the IMAX 3D has evolved over the last few years, getting better with each new "showcase" film, I walked away once again convinced that there is no better projection format in widespread usage today.  I'd say that parents should plan to take their kids to the IMAX 3D format if even remotely possible.  It's worth the drive I had both ways.  It would have been worth twice the drive to watch a movie fire up my kid's imagination like that.  It's more than that, though... the fervor with which he discussed it for the rest of the day, talking about it like it was a place we went instead of something we watched.

Honestly... I have no idea how all this will shake out regarding IMAX and 3D... I have no idea if this is all just a moment, and it'll pass, and we'll be done with 3D again, or if this really is going to be a regular thing.  Lots of people are paying very close attention to how this is released and what sort of difference the specific larger-form playdates make to the overall gross.  In short, Katzenberg's always said this movie is the game-changer, the moment where the mainstream welcomes 3D with open arms.  I'm not sure that's the case, but at least for one three year old, it was way beyond magic, and I'm guessing it'll be a looooooooong time before he forgets what he saw and how he felt today.  It's all he talked about until the moment he finally went to sleep.  It shook him up a few times, but he always put his glasses back on as soon as he took them off.

I have a sneaking suspicion many filmgoers are going to do the exact same thing... resist at first, then realize after seeing it in IMAX 3D that it really is one of the most amazing ways to present a film, that it's more than just a regular engagement.  I plan to go back with Toshi anytime they're playing something he's interested in, because that experience with him today... it was magic.  Watching him watch the film?  Impossible to describe.  It was real to him, and that made it real for me.  And I'm not saying it wouldn't have happened with another film at another moment... I just know the look on his face today, and I know what he reacted to moment-by-moment.  It really is the showcase Katzenberg wanted it to be, technically speaking, and another great show-off booking for IMAX.

I'll be back a little later this morning with my first post South-by-Southwest Morning read, so see you then.

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