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Galapagos

"Galapagos" is a case of old-school nature filming gussied up by new-school Imax 3-D technology. Though the picture plunks the viewer down in one of the globe's most astonishing ecosystems, stuffed with utterly unique fauna, utilization of relatively new 3-D process is underwhelming, and the filmmaking style is as banal as can be.

With:
With: Kenneth Branagh (narrator), Dr. Carole Baldwin, Dr. John McCosker, Dr. David Pawson, Mathias Espinosa, Don Liberatore.

“Galapagos” is a case of old-school nature filming gussied up by new-school Imax 3-D technology. Though the picture plunks the viewer down in one of the globe’s most astonishing ecosystems, stuffed with utterly unique and eerie fauna, utilization of relatively new 3-D process is underwhelming, and the filmmaking style and narration are as banal as can be. Brief science adventure lacks a strong commercial hook and will play best as an edu-pic for tyke auds.

Although Smithsonian-based marine biologist Carol Baldwin is the key human subject here, the real hero is Charles Darwin, whose 1835 exploration of the Galapagos archipelago marked the beginning of what is still the most revolutionary concept in the history of scientific research: natural selection, and how species adapt and evolve to survive amongst themselves and in their environment.

Co-helmers Al Giddings and David Clark, having been here before with their Discovery Channel docu “Galapagos: Beyond Darwin,” know their subject and provide vivid examples of evolution in action. Pic’s greatest value may in fact be as a quiet, demonstrable refutation of anti-evolution “creationists,” whose influence in U.S. schools continues to grow.

Most effective 3-D occurs early, as cameras are positioned within mere feet of docile island creatures such as the giant Galapagos tortoise, which can live more than a century, and the Galapagos iguana, whose gray-toned hide camouflages perfectly with the rocks it sunbathes on. Sheer size of Imax screen image is strikingly under-used throughout, however, as filmmakers fail to capture what must be a visually breathtaking setting.

After initial scuba exploration (highlighted by an all-too-brief encounter with fearsome moray eel), Baldwin’s central mission is to explore the previously unseen offshore depths of the islands, and a sense of excitement builds as she and assistant Don Liberatore descend in the bubble-like compartment of the Johnson Sea-Link II submersible vessel. Underwater unit is capable of 3,000-foot depths, considerably deeper than the scuba equipment will allow, and can suck up deep-water specimens for study.

Baldwin sounds excited once she reaches the ocean floor, but there’s little for the viewer to watch or enjoy in an underwater sequence that pales by comparison to previous watery Imax 3-D project “Into the Deep.” Pic, especially one in which visuals must dominate, becomes far too dependent on Baldwin’s comments and Kenneth Branagh’s well-spoken but blandly written narration to provide a reason to keep watching.

Sheer weight of 3-D equipment appears to have weighed down the film, with demands in physically harsh conditions seemingly limiting visual choices. Only element that picks things up is the eclectic, percussion-rich score from Mark Isham, long proven an able composer for cinema in the wild.

Galapagos

Production: An Imax Film Distribution release of an Imax and Smithsonian Institution presentation in association with the National Science Foundation of a Mandalay Media Arts production, sponsored by America Online. Produced by Al Giddings, David Clark. Executive producers, Laurence O'Reilly, Andrew Gellis, Peter Guber, Barry Clark. Directed by Al Giddings, David Clark; Screenplay, David Clark, Barry Clark.

Crew: Camera (CFI color, Imax 3-D process), Giddings, Andrew Kitzanuk, Reed Smoot; editor, James Lahti; music, Mark Isham; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), James Porteous, D. Andrew Roberts; supervising sound editor, Ed Douglas; second unit camera, Stewart MacFarland, Jon Dodson. Reviewed at California Science Center Imax Theater, Los Angeles, Nov. 9, 1999. Running time: 40 MIN.

With: With: Kenneth Branagh (narrator), Dr. Carole Baldwin, Dr. John McCosker, Dr. David Pawson, Mathias Espinosa, Don Liberatore.

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