IMAX Movie Review

Four Million Houseguests

Reviewed by David Starkman

On May 4th I had the pleasure of attending a preview screening of the latest IMAX® 3D film to be shown at the Edward's IMAX®3D Theatre in the city of Irvine, near the junction of the 5 and 405 Freeways in Orange County, California.

Four Million Houseguests invites us to take a 3D visual journey of discovery, by taking a close-up stereoscopic look at the world immediately around us, and then looking even deeper though the use of stereo microscopy, and stereo scanning electron microscopy. This is done in a gentle and entertaining manner by presenting this "new" world to us through the eyes of the inquisitive 11-year-old Elly (Charlotte Sullivan).

Beginning with a spectacular 3D shot of a secluded and enchanting turn-of-the-century house by a lake (in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada), we soon learn that the house holds many secrets for Elly and her parents (Gosia Dobrowolska and C. David Johnson). The three are house-sitting for her grandfather, an eccentric inventor. Elly spends her days exploring the rambling home and soon discovers her grandfather has left her a treasure map of sorts—a series of whimsical clues that lead her on a magical journey into a hidden world. Soon ordinary objects take on a new dimension as Elly begins to solve the puzzle her grandfather left behind.

imax Four Million Houseguests is a trip through Elly's own looking glass. Like Alice in Wonderland, Elly follows the carefully contrived clues to discover an enchanted world unlike anything she has ever seen. The keys, like Alice's magic cake and secret potion, unlock her imagination and draw Elly into an adventure within her own universe. The view of the world seen through the Illuminator leaves an indelible impression on her as her journey comes to an end.

The power of IMAX® 3D technology, together with special photographic techniques, including stereoscopic macro and micro photography, electron microscopy and Schlieren imaging, take you along with Elly on a fascinating three dimensional journey.

Although the film is obviously intended for young audiences, and even for science teachers to take classes on field trips (a Teacher's Guide for the film is available!), it is presented in such a way that adults will also enjoy the experience. Grandfather's house is filled in every room with antiques, including antique scientific instruments, gadgets, electronic gizmos, and even a Jules Richard Taxiphote. It is used prominently in one scene where the family all have a look into the viewer, and we are all treated to seeing a few of Grandfather's black-and-white 3D slides! (I found out later that the black-and-white slides were actually taken with a Sputnik 120 stereo camera by Noel Archambault, the Stereographer/Camera Operator on the film. He said that he also used the Sputnik for many of the re-created "antique" stills in Across the Sea of Time.)

The Dutch/Australian Director of the film, Paul Cox, was on hand to answer questions. It was interesting that he stated that for all of his past films he had no desire to see them again once they were finished. But he was quite enthusiastic about the 3D aspect of this film, and said that even though this was his fifth screening of the film, that he still enjoyed it, because he saw new things in it each time.

I think that credit should go to Noel Archambault, the Stereographer/ Camera Operator on this film. Noel is already well-known to 3D buffs for his past IMAX 3D work, and in this film he made maximum use of the 3D to create a close-up intimacy with the subjects and their surroundings. Especially important to me was the use of slower cutting between many scenes. In 3D this gave you time to not just concentrate on the actors, but to slowly explore their visually rich surroundings.

Much credit also has to be given to the Art Director, John Dondertman, for doing such an incredible job of filling the house with the most interesting antique optical and scientific instruments. One could imaging starting a museum with the collection seen! I personally asked the Director, Paul Cox, about the Taxiphote used in the film. He said that he bought it himself in a Canadian antique shop—so the Art Director apparently had some help in amassing the props!

I enjoyed the film very much, and found it quite a 3D visual treat. I highly recommend it to everyone, and hope that you all have the opportunity to view it at some time in the near future. This may become more and more possible, as IMAX® 3D is apparently doing quite well, and the IMAX® company is opening new 3D capable theaters as quickly as they can. For more information check out their web site at

For those of you not yet familiar with IMAX® 3D, here are a few bits of information: First, there is the impressively large IMAX® screen. This one is 66 feet high and 92 feet wide! The six channel digital sound system uses a total of 80 speakers, which claim to use 12,000 Watts! Finally, the 3D is achieved with an integrated double 15,000 Watt xenon lamp IMAX® projection system utilizing wireless infrared LCD glasses, which also incorporate IMAX's new PSE (Personal Sound Environment) built-in stereo speakers.

In the 3D projector, an electronic shutter alternates left and right-eye images 96 times per second as the film moves through the camera. Meanwhile, infrared signals from the projection system trigger right and left lenses in the wireless headsets to open and close 48 times per second for each eye, creating the flickerless 3D effect.

If you aren't already a IMAX® 3D fan then you probably haven't seen any of these films. I highly recommend that you waste no time in finding your nearest IMAX® 3D theater. You won't be disappointed.

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