Review: 'Under the Sea 3D'

Latest IMAX 3D adventure puts you nose to nose with a dazzling array of sea creatures and makes you wish the movie were longer.

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Hopkins Islands Australian Sea Lions in Under The Sea 3D.
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I'm a sucker for 3D Imax movies, even the bad ones. When they're good, case in point "Under the Sea 3D," they're sublime. This film comes about as close to snorkeling beneath the Southern Hemisphere as you are likely to get without diving equipment.

Director Howard Hall, who first took IMAX 3D cameras underwater for the 1994 feature "Into the Deep," and in 2006, made "Deep Sea 3D," is at it again. In the latter film, he whooshed us beneath the waters off the Baja Peninsula, the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, and the Bahamas. Here, he set his sights on Papua New Guinea, southern Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, and the waters around Indonesia in the Coral Triangle.

Ostensibly this ecofriendly film is a call to action. It might have been subtitled "Save the Coral Reefs." The narration, straightfacedly supplied by Jim Carrey, offers up info on protecting the marine environment.

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All this is good and necessary, but, in going overboard, let's not go overboard. I certainly hope "Under the Sea 3D" rescues the reefs but, more than that, it rescued my moviegoing. Just when I was resigned to my early-year movie blahs, here's a film that makes your eyes pop.

Hall spent more than 350 hours underwater and 110 days at sea and ended up with almost 10 hours of raw footage, of which he used about 40 minutes. (Each dual roll of IMAX film can only record three minutes.) Even allowing for the expense and the arduousness of the filmmaking – 8,000 pounds of equipment and a 1,300-pound camera – the film's running time is still way too short.

This is the only movie I've seen all year that I wished was longer.

"Under the Sea 3D" is a beautiful reminder that movies can take us to places we've never been before. There are still worlds to conquer out there that don't require the gussying up of CGI effects to hold our attention.

Hall puts us face to face, nose to nose, with a dazzling array of sea creatures – a couple of courting frogfish, a newly discovered species of lionfish, a Winderpus octopus and a magnificent Crown jelly-fish. He also filmed crocodile fish, blue-spotted stingrays, epaulette sharks that use their fins to walk the ocean floor, shape-shifting cuttlefish, great white sharks, and sea lions so playful they nuzzle the camera. Best is the wavy field of garden eels, each over six feet high – a truly supernal sight.

I was grateful to Hill for not including undue footage of aquatic attacks. I hate it when nature documentaries overdose on carnage. It's the rare Discovery Channel or Animal Planet documentary that doesn't feature a zebra being chomped by a lion. When Carrey informs us here that sharks like to dine out on sea lions, I was concerned. Mercifully, we're spared the smorgasbord.

There's plenty for us to feast on in "Under the Sea 3D" without drawing a single drop of blood. If you have small children, you'd be crazy not to take them to this film.

At the very least, bring yourself. Flippers optional. Grade: A (Rated G.)

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