×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Journey to the South Pacific’

The gorgeous, enveloping underwater imagery is the chief selling point of MacGillivray Freeman's latest Imax 3D documentary.

With:

With: Jawi Mayor, Menias Mambasar, Jacob Sauyai, Yesaya Mayor, Gibson Sauyai, Ferdiel Ballamu.
Narrator: Cate Blanchett.

Splendid views of marine life and the dulcet tones of narrator Cate Blanchett help a message of mild ecological alarm go down easily in “Journey to the South Pacific,” the latest kid-friendly Imax 3D documentary from MacGillivray Freeman Films. As one might expect from the company’s high visual standards, the picture’s raison d’etre is its gorgeous, enveloping underwater imagery, shot around the coral reefs of West Papua, Indonesia, and held together by the rather less engaging thread of a village boy receiving an extensive hands-on education. Last year’s “To the Arctic” grossed more than $21 million worldwide, and although it boasts no equivalent of that film’s cute-polar-bears hook, this “Journey” should encounter friendly B.O. waters on the edutainment circuit.

Directors and longtime collaborators Greg MacGillivray and Stephen Judson brought their crew (including d.p. Brad Ohlund) and 25,000 pounds of camera equipment to the remote islands of West Papua, which, located squarely in the center of the Coral Triangle (aka “the Amazon of the seas”), is home to a staggeringly diverse array of fish species. Devoted to studying the coral reefs up close are those aboard the Kalabia, a 100-foot trawler converted into a “floating classroom” for the purpose of educating local children about ocean life. One of these kids is 13-year-old Jawi Mayor, whose first excursion on the Kalabia provides the film with its chief framing device.

After a few lively establishing shots of life in Mayor’s home village, the film follows the boat on a tour of the West Papuan archipelago, pausing occasionally to descend occasionally into the sparklingly clear waters. Among the many creatures captured onscreen is the endangered Pacific leatherback turtle, capable of growing up to 9 feet long; the filmmakers were fortunate enough to catch the rare sight of a mother leatherback crawling up a beach to nest. The other chief highlight is the school of 40-foot-long whale sharks that Mayor bravely swims with, and even gets close enough to feed; although these enormous creatures pose no threats to humans, they’re still imposing enough to suggest otherwise for those unawares.

Structurally, the film is somewhat rambling and unfocused even within its tight 40-minute running time, cutting away periodically to address the ways in which overfishing and rising water levels have severely impacted the reef and its ability to support plant and animal life. The lessons are valuable and necessary, but they’re not particularly well integrated into Mayor’s feel-good story, with its beaming sense of wonder and optimism. The docu’s most playful sequence attempts to merge these two threads by setting the fish’s mouth movements to music, as though expressing their gratitude at the gradual restoration of their reef. It’s an appealingly goofy moment; you half expect “Under the Sea” to pop up on the soundtrack, which is dominated by Steve Wood’s guitar-based but wide-ranging score.

Underwater lensers Howard Hall, D.J. Roller and Peter Kragh film their many finned and tentacled subjects in frame-filling closeups, held by editors Judson and Jonathan Shaw at a duration that allows the viewer to drink in these images at their leisure. Above the water, the 3D imparts a crisp, almost hyperreal clarity and depth to the shots of island life. Down below, the stereoscopic conversion looks more natural and immersive; in these subaquatic depths, few sights are as eye-ticklingly beautiful as a school of fish moving together as one, like a shimmering, undulating curtain.

Film Review: 'Journey to the South Pacific'

Reviewed at Rave Motion Pictures 18, Los Angeles, Dec. 12, 2013. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 40 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary) An Imax Corp. and MacGillivray Freeman Films release of an Imax Entertainment presentation of a MacGillivray Freeman and One World One Ocean Foundation production. Produced by Shaun MacGillivray, Mark Krenzien. Executive producers, Greg Foster, Harrison Smith, Chris Palmer. Co-producer, D.J. Roller.

Crew:

Directed by Greg MacGillivray, Stephen Judson. Written by Judson. Camera (Technicolor, 15/70mm, Imax 3D), Brad Ohlund; underwater camera, Howard Hall, D.J. Roller, Peter Kragh; editors, Judson, Jonathan Shaw; art director, Libby Woolems; music, Steve Wood; sound, Barbara MacGillivray; supervising sound editor, Andrew DeCristofaro; re-recording mixers, Ken Teaney, Marshall Garlington; visual effects producers, Matthew Muller, Tim Amick, Jonathan Shaw; stereoscopic conversion, Sassoon Film Design.

With:

With: Jawi Mayor, Menias Mambasar, Jacob Sauyai, Yesaya Mayor, Gibson Sauyai, Ferdiel Ballamu.
Narrator: Cate Blanchett.

More Film

  • Queen of Scots Hair and Makeup

    'Mary Queen of Scots' Hair, Makeup Artist Gave Substance and Style to Battling Queens

    Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair of several queens over the years: Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (she won an Oscar for the former) and Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria.”  In fact, she had to be convinced to do it again for Saoirse Ronan’s Queen Mary and Margot Robbie’s [...]

  • Richard E. Grant Variety Facetime Interview

    Richard E. Grant on Working With Melissa McCarthy on 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'

    Richard E. Grant has been winning kudos for his supporting role in Fox Searchlight’s “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” The film, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, was directed by Marielle Heller and stars Melissa McCarthy as real-life celebrity biography Lee Israel. Was “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” a fast shoot? More Reviews Film Review: [...]

  • WME Veteran Ari Greenburg Promoted to

    WME Veteran Ari Greenburg Promoted to President of Talent Agency

    WME veteran Ari Greenburg, one of the original Endeavor staffers who helped build the talent agency that became an industry powerhouse, has been promoted to president. Greenburg will oversee all daily operations across WME and its offices in Beverly Hills, New York, Nashville, London and Sydney. The promotion recognizes the role that Greenburg has played [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron Says He Owes 'Roma'

    Alfonso Cuaron Says He Owes 'Roma' in Part to Cannes' Thierry Fremaux

    At a special screening of “Roma” in Paris, Alfonso Cuaron said he owed the film to Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux, who encouraged him to return to Mexico to make a movie – and who, ironically, failed to nab the title for Cannes because of the festival’s spat with Netflix. Fremaux was eager to select [...]

  • Forrest Gump

    Guild of Music Supervisors Awards to Honor Joel Sill; King Princess to Perform (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Guild of Music Supervisors has announced that Joel Sill will receive the organization’s Legacy Award for his contribution to music in film. Sill’s body of work includes “Forrest Gump,” “The Goonies,” “Blade Runner,” “The Color Purple” and “My Cousin Vinny.” He will be joined by Spotify’s RISE artist, King Princess, who will be performing as [...]

  • Vice Christian Bale Sam Rockwell Playback

    Listen: Christian Bale and Sam Rockwell on Early Acting Days and Reuniting for 'Vice'

    PLAYBACK is a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films. New episodes air every Thursday. Oscar-winning actors Christian Bale and Sam Rockwell first met 20 years ago on the Italy-set production of Michael Hoffman’s Shakespeare adaptation “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” With the business in their blood [...]

  • Rebecca Campbell Disney

    Disney Sets Out International Leadership Team Post-Fox Deal

    Rebecca Campbell, Diego Lerner and Uday Shankar are set to be Disney’s three key international chiefs when its deal for 21st Century Fox closes, the company announced Thursday. Campbell will run the Europe, Middle East and Africa team under the new structure, which is conditional on the Fox deal closing. She also adds Russia and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content