One of the buzziest films from the first half of Sundance was U2 3D, a very self-explanatory concert film that only showed twice here in Park City, but whose impact was big — largely due to the presence of Bono and the boys. Only in town for 36 hours, they made the most of it, successfully filling my Saturday with a series of (ultimately futile) attempts to at some point get into their personal space, and filling the streets with camera-toting hordes hoping for a glimpse of the Irishmen. I’d originally been told they weren’t going to be in town, and by the time I fought through the rumor mill to the truth, it was far too late: I was shut out of the pre-premiere dinner, the screening occurred during our own EW party, and by the time I was offered a 1 a.m. ride to the after-party, I’d come to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, the members of U2 should stay as happy figments of my imagination. There’s something to be said for a little mystery.

But unlike most of the films at Sundance this year, U2 3D won’t be a mystery for long, PopWatchers: It rolls out in IMAX 3D theaters around the country today, followed by digital 3D theaters in mid-February. After the jump, some info about the movie, and thoughts from its producers and director — and me. Uno… dos… tres… catorce…

addCredit(“U2: Jean Baptiste Lacroix/”)

Filmed over the course of the Vertigo tour’s 2006 South American leg (the same tour I saw three times in 2005), U2 3D used nine camera set-ups — that’s 18 digital cameras total, or just about every one in existence — in four different cities to capture one seamless performance. It’s some brilliant editing trickery to make it seem like a single concert, but possibly the savviest move was the “phantom show” in Buenos Aires, where the band performed for only the camera crew in order to get tight shots. “We wanted to get all our close-ups without disturbing the audience’s experience, because Bono was very conscious that we cannot interrupt the delivery of their performance,” says co-director Catherine Owens. “Nobody wants to pay for tickets and sit behind a camera rig.” But while the stadium may have been empty, the music didn’t go unappreciated. “Fans in South America camp out for nights before the show, and so there was a whole camp outside the stadium,” Owens remembers. “Songs would stop and you’d hear YAAAAAAAAAY! way over the walls.”

I saw the movie at a pre-Sundance screening in L.A. — but there’s no way my experience came close to what the folks got at Eccles on Saturday night, where there were reportedly people dancing in the aisles and using their cell phones as lighters. Exec producer Sandy Climan told me it was hard to tell where the cheering from the film stopped and the live audience began, and to be honest, I’m bummed as hell I missed it. (You can read Owen Gleiberman’s thoughts on the movie here; since he and I are refreshingly in complete agreement, I feel as though I can be a little more evangelical than usual in this post.) The shooting set-up, developed in collaboration with the band and their design crew, is placed to get the full effect of the kinetic live show, including the visuals usually playing on giant screens behind the stage, and Owens’ eye has captured some truly iconic moments. Crane shots plunge into the crowd to surf along with songs like “Pride (In the Name of Love),” sending you reeling at the sight of 100,000 Argentinians bouncing in unison. The band members play straight into the lens at times (“Bono always knows where the camera is,” Climan jokes), but the majority of the film soars over, around, and through the action without interrupting a beat. You’re sitting in a movie theater, wearing black-rimmed, Adam Clayton-esque 3D glasses, and you feel like the concert is happening in your lap. It’s breathtaking, and it makes that showing of Captain EO you saw at Epcot when you were 11 look like a ViewMaster reel.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, there are few bands working today that could have pulled this off. No matter what you think about Mr. Vox and his ongoing attempts to save the world, U2 possesses both the perfect stage show (those ramps into the crowd are a 3D camera’s best friend) and musical canon (watch as Argentinians sob their way through “One”) for this project. “But it’s not just about the rock and roll,” says Climan, a huge U2 fan himself. “There’s social commentary, there’s a message of caring, there’s a message of tolerance, there’s a story that’s told through their music.” There is also that continually annoying “CoeXisT” headband, but we seem to have abandoned the indulgent simulated torture sequence during “Bullet the Blue Sky.” Still, the Latin American crowds — who hadn’t seen the band live in eight years — show no signs of being jaded about the frontman hijinks, and it’s hard not to get caught up in their adoration. Hell, I remember seeing U2 at tiny Irving Plaza in New York in 2000 and being so psychotically happy to be there I screamed myself hoarse. Maybe the best thing I can say about this movie is it reminded me of what pure rock fandom feels like.

The audience is such a character in the film, in fact, that the creative team has put together a series of fan videos that will be rolling out on over the course of the next several months… but that’s all of the film you’ll be able to see at home. Despite my suggestion they package a DVD with glasses for my viewing pleasure, the members of the creative team are insistent that this be a theatrical experience, period. “It was meant to recreate the experience of going to a concert,” Climan emphasises, “And we believe it will come back, like a concert, on an annual basis. You have to get out of your house, go to a theater, and share this with other people. It can’t be pirated. There’s no way you could pirate this. And for us, it’s extremely gratifying. The biggest challenge for us is keeping people in our seats.”

So, PopWatchers, if you’re living near a theater where this is playing, now’s the time to get out there and see it… and report back. And for those with, like, a job or other plans or something keeping them from hitting the movie right this second, here’s your chance to weigh in: As they say on Facebook, are you interested? Is this a perfect use of 3D technology or just another boost for Bono’s messianic complex? And what other band would you like to see popping off the screen and into your lap?