Friday, February 13, 2009

3D Ocean life is amazing

Viewers of UNDER THE SEA 3D will get the best look at ocean life that they can get without snorkels or scuba gear. This release makes full use of the IMAX format in its theatrical release, revealing the underwater wildlife of Australia, New Guinea, and the rest of the Pacific in vibrant detail. But this beautiful documentary doesn't just show the amazing inhabitants of the ocean; it also reveals the effects of climate change on them and their environment.

From the people who gave us the Imax nature documentaries Into the Deep 3D and Deep Sea 3D comes a new immersive journey, Under the Sea 3D. Director Howard Hall was the first guy to take an IMAX 3-D camera underwater with the California kelp forest documentary Into the Deep (1994), the most successful film made with the technology. This time, Hall and crew head for more exotic waters — coral reefs off the coast of Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Australia, including the Great Barrier Reef. Like its predecessors, Under the Sea is family-friendly viewing — the great white shark swims by, as opposed to tearing prey to shreds. Its goal is to show biodiversity and offer information on how reefs grow, reminding us of threats to these environments. This is no documentary version of Finding Nemo: You can't follow a family of giant cuttlefish like you can lions, polar bears or wolves, although the dramatic feeding and mating behaviours of the odd-looking creatures make them the lead characters in Under the Sea. What we do get are captivating sequences of animal behaviour — a phalanx of sea snakes "standing" like weeds to feed on passing critters; fish that resemble lumps of colourful coral until they snatch their prey; a sea turtle closing its eyes as it chows down on a jellyfish in order to avoid getting stung. No fishy film would be complete without a mammalian cameo, in this case Australian sea lions who mug for the camera. And the filmmakers save the most delicate, alien creature for the grand finale: the Leafy Sea Dragon, which looks like a sculpted bonsai branch with tiny transparent fins. Super weird and cool. Narration is delivered by Jim Carrey, who regrettably plays it straight, although I suppose the message would have been overshadowed by smart-aleck comments. The best thing about high-quality Imax movies such as Under the Sea 3D is that they take us to the world's most beautiful and fragile places so we won't wreck them. The 3D effects are genuinely impressive, ensuring that the experience of watching the film is as close as possible to actual deep sea diving – young children in particular will be delighted and even adults will be hard pressed not to find themselves reaching out and attempting to touch the creatures as they swim in front of you. That said, it's a good thing that the film is only 40 minutes long, because it's hard to focus on some of the scenes and you might end up with a slight headache. Jim Carrey proves a surprisingly decent narrator, though, happily, he does throw in a couple of jokey comments for good measure. The film's environmental message is also hammered home with just enough force, without being over the top. The only real problem with the film is that its child-friendly certificate prohibits any exciting 3D footage of great white sharks in action. It's genuinely thrilling to be up close and personal with a great white shark, but you do end up hoping it will attack a seal during the impossibly cute seal moments. I nice little treat even if we don't get to see the sharks in action. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale. It's educational enough for all ages and the 3D is well worth it. 

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