Watching the dramatic short Wings of Courage on a six-story screen in 3-D probably evokes the same kind of visceral enthrallment experienced by viewers of early motion pictures. The spectacular new technology offers the filmmaker more tools for storytelling–headsets with liquid crystal lenses and a built-in sound system and film ten times the size commonly used. It’s easy to see why Jean-Jacques Annaud, a visually oriented director who started his career turning out dazzling commercials, chose the Imax 3-D format to tell the true-life saga of three French aviators embarking on the first airmail flights in the Andes in 1930 (the story is also the source of Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings). Aerial views of snow-covered peaks cry out for this kind of treatment, but what also intrigued Annaud were the different kinds of intimacy and emotions that can be conveyed by actors inhabiting a 3-D space, the texture and immediacy offered by close-ups. Annaud plants plenty of surprising effects in the interior scenes. In a Parisian cafe, where the future novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Tom Hulce) meets his fellow pilots, couples are seen dancing in the background. Then all of a sudden in a deft touch of vivid spatial realism one couple swirls into the foreground. And of course the aerial footage of biplanes in flight and of a stranded aviator (Craig Sheffer) scaling the vast face of a mountain is breathtaking. But in showing off the technical trickeries Annaud has settled for delivering a rather perfunctory account of a potentially fascinating variation on his favorite theme, man versus hostile environment. The 45-minute film also stars Elizabeth McGovern and Val Kilmer. Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand, Friday through Thursday, March 29 through April 4, 595-7437. –Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.