Jun 062014
D-Day: Normandy 1944

Come for the pop-up books, stay for the history.

The new 3D IMAX film D-Day: Normandy 1944 playing now at the Pacific Science Center is a visually compelling summary of the events of what has been called by some the most important single day in history. The film is a blend of different techniques using live action, archival footage and photos, CGI, and sand animation to recreate the events of the days and weeks surrounding the invasion.

The film is recommended for children 12 and older and while there is no blood, death is obviously a deep and ever-present theme. Some of the techniques used in the film are inventive and visually stunning but may send a mixed message about the age appropriateness of the material. The documentary is divided into five sections discussing aspects of D-Day like who, what, why where, and how and each of these is introduced with a beautiful and elaborate CGI pop-up book featuring an important tool used in the invasion, liberty ships, trucks, cargo planes, bulldozers, and jeeps. The sequences are visually rich and informative but feel as if they were intended for a much younger audience. They don’t really fit in with the more traditional military history of the rest of the film.

The material is presented in a very clear and accessible way and the director, Pascal Vuong, makes excellent use of the different media. Archival photos are manipulated to take full advantage of the 3D format by separating images of figures from the background of the original photos and floating them over the image to create a sense of depth. There are plenty of maps with arrows, flags, and labels but they are all beautifully rendered. Aside from the pop-up books the most unusual element is probably the sand animation where images of the battle are created by an animator painting images in sand using a brush. The effect of these animated sequences to show battle scenes creates a ghostly ethereal atmosphere – definitely an appropriate way to convey the fact of battle to a family audience without any actual violence.

The film is narrated by journalist and author Tom Brokaw and is a very informative if brief and superficial look at a very deep and incredibly complex subject. The film is being promoted along with the new exhibit Spy: The Secret World of Espionage. I can understand the motive for pairing the movie and the exhibit since the espionage stories around D-Day are so interesting but the movie, because of its limited running time, doesn’t have the opportunity to explore them beyond a very brief mention of the inflatable tanks used as a diversionary tactic. Regardless, if you have older kids who enjoy the Spy exhibit or are history buffs D-Day: Normandy 1944 is an excellent introduction to the general history of this important event.

If you go…

Check for show times and purchase tickets on the Pacific Science Center IMAX site.


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