Though touted as the second fictional featurette made in Imax 3-D, “Across the Sea of Time” leans more heavily on the for-mat’s documentary capabilities, for results that are spectacular and unique. Beyond serving as a valentine to the visual glories of present-day New York City, pic deftly incorporates dozens of old stereopticon images that show the city’s turn-of-the-century people and vistas in 3-D. Striking and surprisingly poignant, these vintage treasures are sure to help make the film a major crowd-pleaser at Imax theaters everywhere.
Though only the sheerest of pretexts, pic’s tale is far more fluidly mounted and agreeably contemporary than that of the first Imax 3-D drama, “Wings of Courage.”
Arriving on a rusty freighter, Tomas (Peter Reznik), an 11-year-old Russian boy, jumps ship and swims to the Statue of Lib-erty, bearing old letters and photos sent to his family many decades before by a relative who immigrated to New York and found work as a stereopticon photographer.
Searching for clues to his relative’s fate, Tomas ventures to Ellis Island, Coney Island, Wall Street, Chinatown, Little Italy and so on, up to Central Park, at every stop comparing the city’s present aspects with those recorded long ago in yesteryear’s static, monochrome version of 3-D.
Whether Tomas is whizzing along on a Coney Island roller coaster, rocketing through the subway’s dark caverns, sneaking into a Broadway show also attended by Donald Trump, or imagining Manhattan from a bird’s perspective, the film’s present-tense sections offer the ultimate visual paean to the Big Apple. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani couldn’t wish for a more dazzling come-on to tourists.
But the greatest wonders come in those old stereopticon views, which combine the fascinations of the Lumieres’ early docs with the attention to human detail in Ken Burns'”Civil War” series. Amazing in their number and variety, these images capture immigrants wending through the maze of Ellis Island, long-dead beachgoers splashing in the surf, the teaming streets of the Lower East Side, the Brooklyn Bridge awash with traffic, workers perched on the beams of the first skyscrapers, and much besides.
As engrossing as the expansive views of the bygone city are, it’s the faces that rivet. They’re a vivid melting-pot assortment, young and old, caught in expressions of apprehension, hope, distraction, idle amusement and earnest work. Each seems to sum-mon up not just the manners and fashions of a distant time but a microcosm of individual experience and emotion. At eight stories high and in 3-D, and with an astonishing visual clarity, these images possess a drama no historical re-creation could hope to match.
Director Stephen Low located glass-plate negatives of these antique “stereoviews” at the University of California’s Museum of Photography. Low’s father, Colin, who made the first Imax 3-D film in 1986, designed an animation rig used to transfer prints made from the dual images to Imax. The stunning success of their collaboration makes “Across the Sea of Time” a document certain to awe historians and delight filmgoers for years to come.
Pic’s other tech credits all are excellent, with John Barry’s gorgeous score an especially effective contribution.