This weekend my wonderful wife arranged a date night for us. And how awesome does it make her that it consisted of the single most breathtaking documentary I've ever seen - "Under the Sea 3D," a stroll through the evolution of life at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, followed by a heaping plate of crab legs at the 42nd St. Oyster Bar in Raleigh? (no the irony of that last part is not lost on me - but hey - I loves me some crab legs!)
This post is both a review and a shout out to everyone who has not seen "Under the Sea 3D" at your nearest IMAX to immediately drop what you are doing and go watch it (check out its nifty flash site as well).
I'm not being overly hyperbolic here - this film (directed by Howard Hall) is utterly stunning.
There is basically no narrative in this film. But for what it wants to accomplish, I don't think any documentary I've watched has achieved its goal so succinctly.
The film begins with nothing more than sequence after sequence of mesmerizing coral reef habitats and creatures. It's narrated by Jim Carrey (who is great - I found myself forgetting that it was even him most of the time - there were no characteristic Carrey antics here).
But the key to this film is in the fact that the footage itself leaves you begging for more. Everyone in the theater watched in wonder - their mouths forced open by the alien creatures - usually only realizing later that they've been slack-jawed like goons for five minutes. The three dimensionality is pulled off to such a great extent that the creatures seem like they are moving and living mere inches from your face. I have never been scuba diving (and can't due to my marine unworthy inner ear), but I have been snorkeling - and I consider it one of the most amazing experiences of my life. That being said, the detail in this film far exceeded any real-life ocean experience I've had.
Each of the reef scenes is so filled with action - shrimp scuttling in the background, various fish doing their things, corals waxing and waning in the current - that you literally will want to watch it again just to focus on different aspects of each scene (not to mention the fact that the IMAX screen fills your entire field of view - it's impossible to see it all in one sitting).
Aside from the imagery which is hands down among the best I've seen, the conservation message is presented in the absolutely perfect way for its target audience (basically - everyone in the world and especially kids or the uneducated). Conservation or the ills facing the marine world are not even mentioned until your mind has been boggled by the crazy critters of the sea.
Only after bringing you into a state of constant awe does Jim Carrey begin hinting that things aren't alright. The message ramps up to the inevitable images of dead reefs, bleached by ocean acidification. However, I don't think it ever became overly preachy.
In fact the conservation message ended on an overly optimistic high note (overly from a scientific perspective) but one necessary if we ever want the general populace to care. Basically it paints the current state of the conservation movement as a hopeful paradigm shift in human society. It plainly states that humankind is beginning to realize its mistakes and that most people are coming around. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant because it leaves you thinking "hey, caring about CO2 and the oceans and biodiversity is the normal smart thing now. I want to be part of the informed and enlightened crowd. I want to care too."
In other words it doesn't just say "The oceans are screwed. It's all our fault. We should all be ashamed of what we've done." It says "the better angels of human nature are trying to turn it all around. And they are giving the world hope." And because of the tone, one cannot help but naturally want to be one of those better angels.
For you marine biologists, the very simple message will seem quaint. But I'm sure you will understand the necessity of this sort of film serving as an initiator for conservationist thinking.
I honestly believe that every person on the planet should watch this film. Especially the children.
Oh, and did I mention that there are TONS of cuttlefish in it?
Don't even think for half a second that the following trailer comes close to doing the 3D beauty justice!