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‘First Man’ Gets Bigger and Bolder in Toronto IMAX Premiere

Toronto Film Festival 2018: The format isn’t always ideal, but it made for spectacular moments as Damien Chazelle’s film wowed another festival

Damien Chazelle’s “First Man” has already won over critics and crowds in Venice and Telluride, but the Neil Armstrong story found a little something extra for its Toronto International Film Festival debut on Sunday: A really, really big screen.

The film screened on Sunday afternoon in the Ontario Place Cinesphere, the world’s first dedicated IMAX theater, which is located in a geodesic dome in Lake Ontario.

The official TIFF premiere takes place on Monday in Roy Thomson Hall, but the IMAX screening was a bonus, and the world premiere of the format in which part of the movie was shot.

The full IMAX experience only kicks in once Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) land on the moon near the end of the film, and those few minutes are undeniably spectacular.

It also helps that those scenes are for the most part made up of magnificent lunar vistas in all their widescreen splendor, or of those vistas reflected brilliantly in the visor on the front of Armstrong’s space helmet.

For the rest of the film, the partial-IMAX format paid off at times and was problematic at others. With much of the earthbound action consisting of dialogue scenes shot with hand-held, shaky cameras, IMAX sometimes makes the action too big; the framing already puts us in the thick of the action, and we don’t need those shaky close-ups blown up enormously.

If you’ve already seen “First Man,” the IMAX experience is one to savor. But if you haven’t, it’s not essential.

The movie itself, though, feels as essential in Toronto as it was in Telluride and Venice. The triumph of the space program has never seemed so hard fought or the dangers so visceral, and the shades of Gosling’s performance as a man who won’t show emotion even to his family are more impressive with each viewing.

This isn’t a pure crowd-pleaser like “A Star Is Born,” but it’s a richly satisfying experience. Chazelle has now made a splash at three successive festivals, and the Toronto bow of “First Man” suggests that he’ll be sticking around this awards season.