Dolphins

Balancing the demands of serving up eye candy and science education for viewers in Imax cinemas, nature and adventure filmmaker par excellence Greg MacGillivray has dived into one aspect of the world he explored in "The Living Sea" and come back to shore with "Dolphins." Docu's ability to generate an ebullient reaction is perhaps its most surprising and satisfying quality, while its determination to explore a deeper understanding of the extraordinary mammal's communication and social skills gives it a lasting value that will guarantee sustained runs on the mega-screen circuit (where it has been running since March) and on home monitors.

Balancing the demands of serving up eye candy and science education for viewers in Imax cinemas, nature and adventure filmmaker par excellence Greg MacGillivray has dived into one aspect of the world he explored in “The Living Sea” and come back to shore with “Dolphins.” Docu’s ability to generate an ebullient reaction is perhaps its most surprising and satisfying quality, while its determination to explore a deeper understanding of the extraordinary mammal’s communication and social skills gives it a lasting value that will guarantee sustained runs on the mega-screen circuit (where it has been running since March) and on home monitors.

Because of the complexity and sophistication of dolphin behavior and intelligence, a longer pic is surely in order, but the short running time required for Imax exhibition never feels like a crimp on MacGillivray’s style. If he tackled perhaps too large a topic with “The Living Sea,” this return to the deep blue — again employing Sting’s calypso-tinged songs and the filmmaker’s signature swooping helicopter and airborne shots — is an ideal fit with the venue.

The global spread of more than 40 dolphin species, adapted to a range of climes from the West Indies to Patagonia, lends docu an international flavor, as it travels to and fro observing various scientists examining everything from the animal’s physiology (underwater views of a dolphin’s powerfully whipping back fin explains its ability to jump high out of the water) to its hunting skills. While the initial minutes are a bit scattered, including a disjointed section on illegal netting of dolphins by tuna fishermen, which merits a film of its own, pic makes clear that it intends to go beyond the popular portrayal of these likable creatures as merely cute.

Marine biologist Kathleen Dudzinski’s work on dolphin communication provides the film with a sustained focus, as she records video and audio of dolphins interacting, producing a view of every movement in sync with a range of squeaks, cries and other “talking” sounds. As Pierce Brosnan’s gentle, accessible narration explains, it’s illegal to swim with dolphins in U.S. waters; Dudzinski thus carries on her work in Freeport, Bahamas, where MacGillivray does a marvelous job of creating a visual link between dolphin and human body language, as well as filming the biologist’s research on dolphin sonar “echo-location” to find food hidden under the ocean bottom.

A sojourn to Patagonia by Dudzinski and Alejandro Acevedo-Gutierrez, a specialist in dolphin feeding habits, sends docu into Imax heaven, with dynamic footage of the open ocean and dolphin groups strategizing to gulp down schools of fish. The motif of naturalist Dean Bernal swimming with lone dolphin JoJo provides an iconic, nearly mystical image that is, like the entire work, more profound than sweet. MacGillivray and Brad Ohlund’s lensing above the water is majestic, while underwater cinematographers Bob Talbot and Paul Atkins are gutsy magicians under it.

Dolphins

Production

A MacGillivray Freeman Films release and presentation in association with the National Wildlife Federation. Produced by Greg MacGillivray, Alec Lorimore. Executive producer, Christopher N. Palmer. Directed by Greg MacGillivray. Screenplay, Tim Cahill, Stephen Judson.

Crew

Camera (CFI color, Imax), MacGillivray, Brad Ohlund; editor, Judson; music, Steve Wood, Sting; sound, Ken Teaney, Marshall Garlington, Wilshire Stages; sound effects editors, Harry Cohen, Ann Scibelli, EFX Systems; underwater directors/camera, Bob Talbot, Paul Atkins; aerial cameras, Ron Goodman, Ohlund, Jack Tankard. Reviewed at California Science Center Imax Theater, L.A., Oct. 12, 2000. Running time: 39 MIN.

With

Narrator: Pierce Brosnan.
With: Kathleen Dudzinski, Dean Bernal, Alejandro Acevedo-Gutierrez, Bernd Wursig, Dr. Louis Herman.
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