Only having the ability to turn left might sound like a plot thread from Zoolander, but the high-speed, life-on-the-line world of NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) is serious business. For the uninitiated, NASCAR involves getting a car built to prescribed specifications and driving it hell-for-leather around an oval, heavily banked (we are talking up to 1 in 3 here!) track for hours on end, bumper to bumper with dozens of similar vehicles. A second can mean the difference between winning and losing and a momentary lapse in concentration can result in spectacular, occasionally life threatening, crashes. The following for this sport is huge in the US – over 200,000 people attend the races, every fan idolises the drivers and buys the merchandise.
NASCAR 3-D, The IMAX Experience is basically a glorious 40-minute advert for the sport – but it’s a damn good one. Narrated by Kiefer Sutherland, this is the IMAX docutainment principle at its most honed – take your subject, add a "historical flashback" (here the transition from moonshine running to organised racing), illustrate with copious clips and add lots of astounding facts. Dragging kids (or indeed adults for that matter) into a documentary often isn’t an easy task so the whole thing is wrapped up in the theme-park roller-coaster that is "The IMAX Experience".
IMAX is definitely the format for giddying documentaries, because it perfectly recreates the sense of scale and dynamism – hence the plethora of extreme sports, space and dinosaur films available. The addition of (polarised, not the old style red and green glasses) 3-D for this film further enhances the effect – whether it’s tyres bouncing into the audience from a crashing car or a mechanic spraying shards of sparkling metal in your face, there’s always something available to shoot out of the screen.
This works in two ways – either to get a real sense of scale (the helicopter shots and a sequence involving scores of mechanics at a pit-stop are very impressive) or purely as a gimmick (putting you in the driver’s seat or the aforementioned tyre shot), giving the two extremes of the IMAX ‘fact plus fun’ ethos. And it’s loud – really loud. NASCAR 3-D manages to pack an awful lot into its scant running time: a history of the association and its drivers, how the cars are built and serviced, how the racing and publicity are handled, as well as the pit stops, the fans and the race itself.
NASCAR 3-D: The IMAX Experience is everything a good IMAX documentary should be; short, sweet, informative and packed with spectacle. It might not turn you into a racing fanatic but it certainly goes a long way to explain why the drivers and fans are so passionate about the sport. Recommended, even if your sum knowledge of cars is that most of them have four wheels.
NASCAR 3-D: The IMAX Experience is currently showing at Millennium Point in Birmingham, and if you’re inspired to see some real racing for yourself head over to Rockingham, near Corby, where you can check out the UK’s answer to this distinctive sport.