Singlemindedly devoted to crushing the "Jaws"-fed perception of sharks as vicious man-eaters, "Sharks 3D" delivers a refreshingly benign and at times visually overwhelming take on a much-feared (and, its makers argue, much-misunderstood) subject. As narrated by a talking sea turtle and more or less carnage-free, this beautifully lensed Imax docu is clearly aimed at tykes but will likely play well to interested auds across the board.

Singlemindedly devoted to crushing the “Jaws”-fed perception of sharks as vicious man-eaters, “Sharks 3D” delivers a refreshingly benign and at times visually overwhelming take on a much-feared (and, its makers argue, much-misunderstood) subject. As narrated by a talking sea turtle and more or less carnage-free, this beautifully lensed Imax docu is clearly aimed at tykes but will likely play well to interested auds across the board.

Culled from more than 500 hours of diving footage shot over nine months by helmer Jean-Jacques Mantello and ace underwater d.p. Gavin McKinney, pic serves as an effective giant-screen rebuttal to recent DV horror film “Open Water” — it gives deep-sea predators their proper due, and it’s gorgeous to behold. This may be eye-candy masked as ecological advocacy, but if so, it’s eye-candy of a very high caliber.

In one image, a multitude of tiny, iridescent jellyfish swim close enough to all but tickle the eyeballs, resembling a shimmering pink-brocade curtain. Later, seemingly thousands of sardines display their abilities in synchronized swimming, in a shot that could easily furnish the world’s coolest screensaver.

The sheer diversity of fish on display is the first indication that “Sharks 3D’s” title is a bit misleading: While the pic does offer up-close-and-personal looks at sharks of many varieties, from silvertips, hammerheads and gray reefs to great whites and whale sharks, pic also devotes substantial face-time to other species. In one of the more intense sequences, McKinney’s cameras follow a sea lion warily trailing a shark that has just finished feeding; in another, a mother dolphin shields her young from a pair of hungry predators.

That’s about as close as the images come to generating suspense, determined as pic is to present its subjects in the most flattering possible light — highly efficient killers that nevertheless are rarely hungry and have little appetite for human flesh. Like most educational docs, pic intermittently drifts into save-the-environment didacticism, sketching a portrait of animals that are far more frequently victimized by human beings than vice versa.

Information is well narrated by Geoffrey Bateman, lending his wry British accent to the voice of a sea turtle that swims regularly in front of the cameras to comment on the action, sometimes rather obviously. Effect can be cloying (“Whoooh, let’s get out of here!” the turtle says once the great-white segment is over) but it’s also disarming.

Three-dimensional visuals do a splendid job of conjuring a deeply immersive, almost otherworldly oceanic environment, though the seams do show every so often; it’s a bit jarring to see an enormous 34-ton whale shark in 3-D with half its body cut off by the bottom of the frame.

Though it verges on the overemphatic, Christophe Jacquelin’s wide-ranging score cultivates a genuine sense of wonder, effectively adapting to complement whichever animals happen to be on display.

Sharks 3D

Production

A 3D Entertainment release of a Jean-Michel Cousteau presentation of a 3D Entertainment and Gavin McKinney Underwater Prods. production in collaboration with Ocean Futures Society and United Nations Environment Program. Executive producer, Francois Mantello. Directed by Jean-Jacques Mantello. Written by David Chocron.

Crew

Camera (color, Sony HDW750, 3D, Imax format), Gavin McKinney; editor, Mantello; music, Christophe Jacquelin. Reviewed at Universal CityWalk Imax Theater, Feb. 2, 2005. Running time: 42 MIN.

With

Geoffrey Bateman.
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