IMAX: Climate Change, Dinosaurs, and Rescue Missions

Geek Culture

To the Arctic IMAXTo the Arctic IMAX

I’ve really been enjoying OMSI’s IMAX Film Festival. The scheduling can be tricky, because I have to find time slots that fit around preschool pick-up and drop-off, violin lessons, and so on, and the regular schedule means that sometimes the only ones I can make are those I’ve already seen. What I’ve realized, though, is that I can handle about two films in a row before I need a break from the big screen, particularly if there are a lot of shaky scenes involved. Here’s a quick look at some of the films I’ve watched so far.

To the Arctic is a new film, so it’s the one that is running nearly every day at OMSI. Narrated by Meryl Streep, it incorporates the sweeping panoramic views of the arctic that you’d expect from an IMAX film, but then it takes a closer look at how climate change is affecting things. The movie focuses on animals — more specifically, on animal mothers and how the melting ice makes their jobs harder. The poster child (literally) is the polar bear. One segment of the movie follows two polar bear cubs and their mother, explaining how melting sea ice makes it harder to find food, and showing how incredibly far some polar bears will swim across open seas to reach other shores. In addition, male polar bears will actually hunt other bear cubs when there isn’t enough food to go around. The film also follows the migration of the caribou (again, detailing how warmer temperatures are making it harder for calves to survive the journey). Other animals like walrus and terns appear, too, but the stars of the show are clearly the polar bears.

Lake PowellLake Powell

Lake Powell. Publicity still copyright MacGillivray Freeman Films.

For a change of scenery, my wife and I then watched Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, a film from 2008 narrated in part by Robert Redford. Of course, the IMAX format is a great way to see the Grand Canyon (if you can’t be there in person) and you do get some awesome flyover shots. You also get some point-of-view scenes as the crew braves the rapids — but fortunately these are brief, because too much could be nausea-inducing. The film follows author Wade Davis and river advocate Robert F. Kennedy, along with their two daughters, as they make the trek down the entire Colorado River with their guide Shana Watahomigie, the first Native American to become a National Park Ranger. What I didn’t realize until watching the film was how much the Colorado River is drying up. When they get to Lake Powell, formed by the Glen Canyon Dam, Davis explains that the lake has lost a lot of its volume — but it’s not until the camera zooms out and you can see the line marking the old water level that you really see how much water is gone.

Both of the above films tend to induce some amounts of environmental guilt — the point is made quite explicit that the melting icecaps and water depletion are our fault. Global warming from our carbon output, inefficient irrigation methods, and the vast quantities of water needed to support cities like Las Vegas in the middle of the desert are all contributing to the slow demise of these gorgeous natural landscapes. We’d been planning to watch another film after Grand Canyon Adventure but my wife wasn’t sure she could handle that much shame all at once.

Flying MonstersFlying Monsters

Thankfully, not all IMAX films leave you feeling quite so guilt-ridden. This past weekend OMSI had “Dino Days,” where they showed several of their dinosaur-themed films back to back: Dinosaurs Alive, Flying Monsters, and Sea Monsters. We missed Dinosaurs Alive, but we took our kids to see the other two. Using a combination of interviews with paleontologists and CGI animation, the films depict how dinosaurs may have looked in motion. Flying Monsters is the newest one (just out last year) and Richard Attenborough is the host of the movie. Attenborough explains the whys and hows of flying dinosaurs, showing the differences in tail length and wing type (and bizarre head shapes), leading up to the enormous Quetzalcoatlus, the biggest animal to have ever flown. I like the way that they use CGI to bring the fossils to life, highlighting various bones as Attenborough points them out and then assembling them in mid-air. Quite often it’s hard for me to make out all the details in a flattened fossil, and this really helps to visualize the creature.

Sea Monsters, from 2007, is all about the prehistoric beasts of the seas. My daughter was especially excited to see the Sternberg Museum from Hays, Kansas, featured heavily in the film — when we were still living in Tribune she went there on a field trip, and got to see the famous fish-within-a-fish Xiphactinus audax fossil that appears in the movie.

The one thing I’m not sure about is the way that the CGI and live action is combined, because I’m not sure if my younger daughter really understood that these were reproductions, and not simply some living dinosaurs caught on film. In a world where CGI is becoming more and more realistic, parents should probably make a special effort to discuss with their kids how to tell if something is real or not.

Rescue 3D IMAXRescue 3D IMAXFinally, the one other IMAX film I’ve seen so far is Rescue, about several different people involved in disaster relief. The movie introduces the various people — a Canadian naval captain, a volunteer firefighter, a U.S. Air Force pilot, an Army National Guard helicopter pilot — and gives us a brief overview of what they do. We get to see some of their training and practice runs, like when Captain Lauren Ross has to land her C-17 on a really short runway.

After that, the movie cuts to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which devastated the capital city of Port au Prince. Each of the rescuers (and their teams) spring into action, prepping supplies and making arrangements to get to Haiti.

Rescue focuses on what the responders are able to do — the difficulties of getting into Haiti and how they are able to help the people in need. It doesn’t get into some of the other issues that arose — wasted effort, disorganized relief efforts — and does not draw judgment on what types of aid were more useful than others.

Some proceeds from the Rescue film go toward American Red Cross Disaster Relief, and the film is being shown in conjunction with the “Nature Unleashed” exhibit at OMSI, all about natural disasters.

I’m hoping to catch a few more of the films before the film festival ends July 1. For more information about OMSI (including film schedules) visit their website. Many of the films are available now on Blu-ray or DVD: Grand Canyon Adventure, Dinosaurs Alive, Flying Monsters, Sea Monsters.

Disclosure: OMSI provided a film festival pass to GeekDad.

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