Stones fans just might find they get what they need from IMAX


HOW GOOD is "At the Max?" So good that the ushers at the Maryland Science Center are being issued earplugs.

How real is this first film to bring the giant-screen IMAX process to the rock 'n' roll concert stage? So real that viewers have a more intimate view, by far, than even Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, Billy Wyman and Charlie Watts had.

Those guys are The Rolling Stones, of course, and "At the Max" is an awesome, rocking good film treatment of their 1990 "Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle" concert tour. The 89-minute film makes its East Coast premiere tomorrow night at 8 at the Science Center's IMAX theater, for an indefinite weekend-evening run.

Showings are scheduled (at $13 a person) for 8 p.m. Thursday (not including tonight), Friday and Saturday and for 7 p.m. Sunday. Some 10:30 p.m. shows are also expected to be scheduled. Reserved tickets are available at the center's box office or by calling 685-5225 or at TicketMaster (1-301-481-6000).

"At the Max" is really more real than reality. Nobody who attended the "Steel Wheels" tour, or played in it, even remotely saw and heard it this way.

There are moments when viewers will feel they are roadies on stage, handing Richards a new guitar. At other moments, you become hand-clapping members of the audience, singing along with Mick and the boys. (The film was shot over five days at the end of the tour, during performances in London's Wembly Stadium, in Turin, Italy, and in East Berlin).

But there are also perspectives only the IMAX camera had, such as wide-angle helicopter shots of the pyrotechnic stage and an astonishing view of Jagger swaggering (in "Sympathy for the Devil") atop the set's highest point. The shot is downward from over his shoulder, showing a mass of supplicant humanity at his feet.

Close your eyes if you suffer fear of heights.

The film has broken intriguing new ground. The creative consultant to executive producer Michael Cohl was Julien Temple, producer of several Stones videos. The inherent super-reality feel of the IMAX process provides a new kind of concert appearance altogether.

It might work just as well with a Tony Bennett concert as the high-tech Steel Wheels sound and light show.

Further, the IMAX theater's surround-sound system creates the aural illusion of somehow being inside the film. A crowd at a preview showing earlier this week spontaneously clapped at the closing moments, and it was hard to tell when their applause stopped and the screen audience appreciation began.

Neither narration nor interview mars the concert presentation of 15 Stones hits, from the early "Ruby Tuesday" to the climactic encore "Satisfaction." Only one sequence -- an indulgent, MTV-type, computer-graphic treatment shortly after the film's 10-minute intermission -- departs from relatively straightforward filming.

And a fascinating sub-theme to the experience is watching the IMAX equipment in use. As clearly seen, the large-format cameras are huge, pushed along railroad track dollies by a gang of technicians or hung from big gantry cranes. One great shot is over Jagger's shoulder again, looking out toward the audience and into the lens of another IMAX camera looking back.

Science Center director Paul Hanle acknowledged the film departs from the usual science content of previous IMAX offerings. And it was reported this week that the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which has Manhattan's only IMAX screen, turned down "At the Max" because it would disrupt the facility's education role.

"Are we exploring acoustical science? Well, no," said Hanle.

But he said museum officials agreed this summer, after seeing a 10-minute clip from the movie "that we really have to show this film."

He said the center will use proceeds from the concert-style presentation to fund its regular science programs, adding, "We're hopeful that it will be a real draw."

The center is also adopting some concert marketing techniques, including heavy promotion on co-sponsor 98 Rock radio and WBAL-TV, as well as the sale of fan paraphernalia, including T-shirts and buttons.

Showings of "At the Max" are scheduled for 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and for 7 p.m. Sunday. Some 10:30 p.m. shows are also expected to be scheduled. Tickets are $13 a person. Reserved tickets are available at the center's box office, or by calling 685-5225 or at TicketMaster (1-301-481-6000).

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