Maggie writes eclectically about pretty much anything to do with the arts because she has a big gap in her knowledge of science. She co-authors a blog on screen culture at www.pictureskew.net.
I haven't really thought about dinosaurs since Grade 5, so I was hoping that the wonderfully impassioned Sir David Attenborough narrating Flying Monsters 3D would rejuvenate my fleeting childish interest in all things 'flying saurus'. I also looked forward to trying out Rear Window captioning (RWC) designed by Rufus Butler Seder, the new closed caption technology introduced to IMAX Melbourne Museum (currently the only cinema in Australia to use it).
A fearsome pterosaur from Flying Monsters 3D.
Source: National Geographic
'Closed captioning' usually refers to devices for personal use that display captions for deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. I am a regular purveyor of open captions at home (captions contained within the screen) and I always enjoy a foreign film at the movies because of their compulsory captions. But recently I have been trying out closed captions for English-speaking films at the cinema. At the Forest Hill Chase Hoyts, I tested CaptiView closed caption technology. It started out well, but broke down in the third act of the film. How would RWC compare?
IMAX Melbourne Museum staffer Jeremy handing over the Rear Window captioning device at the Box Office.
Source: Museum Victoria
I presented myself at the box office to collect the RWC gear, and was given a long, flexible black stem that had a white sock pulled over the end of it. Thankfully, they kept the sock, which protected a plastic reflective screen. Inside the cinema, I gulped bravely as I suddenly realised it was school holidays. Picking my way through the fidgety crowd, I found a seat about six or seven rows from the centre front and unsuccessfully tried to squeeze the contraption into the cup holder.
Within seconds, a cinema attendant bounced heroically over the seats, gave the thing a firm tap, and in it went. As the film rolled, I was still adjusting the flexible arm so that the small plastic screen would catch the mirrored captions reflected from an LED screen on the back wall of the cinema. The arm's design is not unlike the exoskeleton of a pterosaur, which is what I hoped the people around me would think it was as I fussed over the angles like I was adjusting a car's rear view mirror.
Throughout the film, distracted little legs kicked the back of my chair and I made a sorry attempt to move a few times. I couldn't yank the contraption out of the cup holder, and what with my giant 3D glasses, and my own personal collection of bulky bags, I was rendered immobile. Halfway through, I just gave up and settled in to enjoy the beautiful, immersive CG scenery which, at one point, depicts Sir David flying in a small glider, narrating like a champion as a giant Quetzalcoatlus flaps lazily behind him.
A scene from Flying Monsters 3D with David Attenborough in a glider, enjoying a close-up view of Quetzalcoatlus.
Source: National Geographic
I turned off my hearing aids to test the captions to their full capacity, and found that they kept up admirably, which is important for such a heavily narrated, information rich film. They are clear, consistent, descriptive and unfailing. This is what sets this technology apart from CaptiView, which relies on the full functionality of the device in your cup holder to work properly – one glitch and the movie is ruined.
Overall, RWC seems reliable if a little fussy to adjust within one's personal space. I will try it again with a feature fiction film to see how it holds up in a different genre, and to see whether the device better fits in other cup holders within the cinema.
It's fantastic that IMAX Melbourne Museum care so much about accessibility that they have integrated this technology into their cinemas, and it is doubly excellent to note that the allocated RWC seats are the best in the house! IMAX claims they will try to get most of their films with captions (look out for the CC symbol in the program). However, their selection of films is specialised and limited, so it would be even better if all the other cinemas out there could catch up because audiences who rely on this kind of technology really should have wider access to the huge variety of amazing films out there.
Accessiblity at IMAX Melbourne Museum
Rufus Butler Seder report on RWC
Melel Media review of RWC