Close-Up encounters… ‘E.T. in Concert’ at The Royal Albert Hall

 

On Wednesday 28th December, The RAH played host to the ET: The Extra-Terrestrial leg of its current ‘In Concert’ series of live orchestra accompanied films. Previous mightily musical movies featured, include Jurassic Park, Amadeus, Independence Day, Gladiator, Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather and Frozen. They have been doing this since 2009 and they can fill the 5000 capacity temporary cinema (making it Europe’s largest) for a reason. The live music is seamless, the films are classics and the magic of the auditorium makes any trip a special event.

The Hall is not a conventional space for a film screening, not only due to its traditional association with classical music, but also because the cavernous space creates an echoing effect for the speech and sound effects of the film over which the score is orchestrated. However, this in turn has the bizarre effect of making the experience more immediate. Dozens of smaller speakers fill the overhead rigs and therefore there is literally more depth to the sound than the easily filled confines of a conventional cinema. It ensures everyone in the circular space has the same aural experience. The high ceilings in South Kensington are turned into an advantage. The seats also swivel about 30° meaning that sitting on the either far side of the screen won’t leave you with neck ache! When the screen is 20 metres wide there is probably no ‘bad seat’ in the house..

E.T. is of course scored by the legendary John Williams and this film in particular allowed you to settle right in with the orchestra as the extensive opening sequence is comprised of constant background music..

The last moments before the 20-minute interval gave a taste of the famous theme music when Elliott launches into the air and is silhouetted against the moon. That spine-tingling section of the score returns as they make a bid for freedom and help E.T. return home towards its conclusion. This longer section meant a little more time to watch the orchestra itself rather than the film for a while, especially the dramatic bass drum. Moments of peril and excitement are also excellently brought to life in a live environment. The use of the string section say, to create panic, works doubly so when you can see the fury of the bowstrings that are creating that sound just below the screen..

It’s a brilliant experience. As the hall emptied, all the fractured conversations of passers-by were of universal awe and enjoyment. This film in particular holds great nostalgic value and incidentally holds up very well 24 years since its release. The screen is of staggeringly high definition. It was only the fashion and perhaps some of the technology that made the film-watching experience itself feel dated..

The Royal Albert Hall’s own blog video goes into a little more detail on how it comes together and features the Series’ producer and a conductor’s viewpoint of playing along to a film. It also gives a great sense of the scale of the space, how the screen is constructed, how the audience experience it and how the musicians are able to play along so precisely..

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Yet to come in 2017 are Titanic, Brassed Off and Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. See their website for more information.

George Meixner

Author: George Meixner

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