IMAX conjures those 19th-century panorama shows so popular before cinema itself, creeping canvases whose “brutal and enormous magic” offered up wish-you-were-theres for the would-be worldly—with the Pyramids replaced by Everest expeditions, Napoleon become Michael Jordan, and the Passion hot-swapped herein for a rock show. If you’re looking for Maysles grace or some Last Waltzing, look away. What you get is a muscular corpus of VH-Wonders in performance, connected by an integument of testifying heads, the ongoing threat of a Dave Matthews/Al Green collabo, and incidental music by that most incidental of musicians, Moby. And of course the ineluctable fetishism of the rock doc—though in this postguitar era, the camera shoots its wad on extreme close-ups of little plastic sliders going up and down the mixing board. Sexy.
The drama comes from demographic schizophrenia. The roster skews heavily adultward with a dash of hippie: Santana, Sting, snore. But the discourse seems preteen dreamy: starry “my first show” interchats, and the few expletives digitally deleted. IMAXimalism seems designed to compete with the immersive appeal of PlayStation; moreover, only kids like Kid Rock hold the screen’s silver acreage.
Framed by vid-clip structure, it all seems an advertisement—ostensibly for a retrograde vision of the R.O.C.K. lifestyle, as if we didn’t already have Almost Famous. But something stranger’s afoot. You may wonder why Macy Gray is consigned to gospel ditty “I Can’t Wait to Meetchu”; or why Matthews and the Reverend Al’s “Take Me to the River” is rigged as the flick’s money shot. Dude, what part of “Christian allegory” don’t you understand? This explains the absence of cussing (and groupies and dope) from our “All Access” romp; makes sense of the concert-as-conversion-experience yang. Sure enough, after the river baptismal, we are born again into a brief afterlife (formerly known as an encore) in which, according to the press materials, not-so-crypto Christian Moby “appears as a common man touched by and in touch with another, altogether different world.” Which means he closes the enormous spectacle with an aimless piece of mood music, here subbing for heaven. Magic.