I never saw this film on a normal screen, but I'm not sure I'd want to now.
IMAX, if lack of underage relatives has prevented you from experiencing it, is distinguished by a screen about three stories high with curved edges. The seats are set on a steep angle that not only eliminates any heads in front of you, but creates the dramatic effect of heading straight out into an expansive space.
All of this, clearly, works very well for a film about going to the Moon.
Other than the context, the most striking thing about this film was how quietly compelling it was. At some point, about the moment the astronauts head behind the Moon, I became aware that ONE person was eating popcorn. This turned out to be a 13-year-old girl whose own mother begged her to stop.
This unwelcome intrusion made me all the more aware that I hadn't heard any of the irritating sound effects which are a staple of movie theaters these days. No munching of popcorn, no slurping of sodas. No whispering (have you been in ANY theater these days where somebody wasn't 'quietly' whispering to their neighbor?). Even the noisy group of workmates directly in front of me was spell bound.
All of this while little explicit drama was occurring on screen. A remarkable amount of screen time is dedicated to technical lingo, detailed calculations, references to manuals. It is, on one level, a very nerdy film. Except that the nerds - those downright homely men in over-sized glasses and white short-sleeved T-shirts - are the heroes here. Their calculations, their problem-solving, their maddening precision suddenly become sickeningly urgent. And the hero, James Lovell (the Tom Hanks character) is heroic more for leadership than physical courage - which at any rate is a given in any three people who will go hurtling thousands of miles away from the most basic elements of human safety (air and solid ground come to mind.)
Would this be as compelling on a standard size screen? Probably. But I can't imagine anything as effective as the first shots of the Moon hanging in space, or that last dramatic view of the Earth before the capsule begins re-entry.
Wow! In this case, no word in the critical vocabulary could be more precise.
Already seen it? If you're anywhere near an IMAX screen, try again. Because this, I guarantee you, is how this film was meant to be seen.