There's no mistaking the key constituency for "Deep Sea," the latest Imax undersea docu from the filmmaking team behind the far superior "Into the Deep." With Imax pics chronically unable to break out into wider theatrical realms, and with prime aud still tots on school field trips, the new voyage is pitched right at the grade school set and no higher.

There’s no mistaking the key constituency for “Deep Sea,” the latest Imax undersea docu from the filmmaking team behind the far superior “Into the Deep.” With Imax pics chronically unable to break out — beyond the surpassingly odd success of “The Polar Express” — into wider theatrical realms, and with prime aud still tots on school field trips, the new voyage is pitched right at the grade school set and no higher. Message of environmental threats to global coral reefs is worthy, though, and will be heard across the network of Imax screens through the spring period.

Given widespread reports of coral erosion and industrial-based oceanic pollution, director-lenser Howard Hall’s return to the depths should have been more urgent than “Into the Deep,” but instead, it’s more superficial. Inevitably, the most visually arresting images take center stage, starting with the astonishing view of a giant pack of moon jellyfish swimming out of the distant black and directly toward the camera.

More troublesome is the scripts tendency — as voiced by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, occasionally overdoing it — to characterize ecosystems of sea creatures and plants as “communities” full of “diversity,” suggesting that it takes a village to raise a minnow. Such feel-good rhetoric sounds excessive in what’s basically designed as a science education film for school kids, and plays as an extreme over-correction to the somewhat discredited old “survival of the fittest,” dog-eat-dog view of nature.

The notion of a supportive, chain-of-being nature works as long as pic is concerned with the health of the coral reef, which is perhaps one of the Earth’s most complex examples of vulnerable and inter-dependent ecology. But the thesis comes undone precisely when pic ventures into the deep sea around Baja, the Caribbean, North Carolina and other locales where vicious battles between natural predators and prey are observed.

It’s likely a good bet, in other words, that science museum gift stores stocked with Imax-related gear aren’t likely to include stuffed-toy versions of the alarming Humboldt squid, whose presence here — especially in 3-D — may actually scare the very young. Hall, though, scores a coup when his cameras catch angles of manta ray that look deep inside their gaping mouths.

Imax 3-D process has lost its original novelty, and little is done in “Deep Sea” to find new and exciting ways of using the medium. Despite the giant screen image, pic’s best cinematic effect is natural sound lending powerfully heightened reality to the sea life.

Deep Sea

Production

An Imax release of a Warner Bros. presentation of an Imax Filmed Entertainment production. Produced by Toni Myers, Michele Hall. Co-executive producers, Graeme Ferguson, Brad A. Ball. Directed by Howard Hall. Narration written by Hall, Toni Myers, Graeme Ferguson.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, CFI color, Technicolor and CFI prints, Imax 3-D process), Hall; editor, Myers; music, Danny Elfman; sound, Cory Mandel, Don White, Ed Douglas; supervising sound editor, Peter Thillaye; associate producer, Judy Carroll. Reviewed at California Science Center Imax Theatre, Los Angeles, Feb. 15, 2006. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 40 MIN.

With

Voices: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet.
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