(NR) 4 1/2 stars If you love beautiful sea life and thought Finding Nemo was awesome because of its depiction of the sea, The Coral Reef Adventure at the IMAX is definitely for you. And even if you’re so-so about the sea, you may find yourself surprised by this excellent work.
The structure of director Greg MacGillivray’s movie follows a group of oceanographers, including Howard and Michele Hall and Jean-Michel Cousteau, as they travel the world investigating the effects of environmental damage on coral reefs, and diving to dark deep reefs never before seen by man. Stunning photography and a soundtrack by Crosby, Stills & Nash come together for an enormously entertaining experience on the giant screen. We’re treated to scenes of undersea life both delicate and rock-hard, both brightly lit and hidden in dark corners.
Though it’s written in a family-friendly tone, the script doesn’t talk down to the audience, either; it includes discussions on environmental impact and the vast potential for medical and scientific benefits from the reefs. The direction, narration and musical choices draw you completely into the action. I felt chills listening to “Into the Darkness” pound away as the team members, one of whom had only just survived a near-fatal case of the bends, descend to unknown reefs 350 feet below the surface, surrounded by dozens, perhaps hundreds of entirely new species of sea life.
The danger and power of the sea has rarely been so strongly depicted on film — particularly when the image is eight stories tall. Our seafaring narrators are swept helplessly along in a powerful undersea current that drags them along the ocean floor, right into a school of 300 nervous reef sharks congregating like a street gang in a canyon. Caught in the current’s grip, there’s nothing for the divers to do except swim along for a while and hope none of the sharks get excited. It’s a scene more nerve-wracking than anything in Jaws.
The out-of-water sequences are equally effective. One breathtaking scene sweeps the camera down a canyon by helicopter, following a pollution-clogged river as it merges with another and spreads its silt even farther, eventually wrecking the coral reef at the river’s mouth. Perhaps most effective of all is aerial work displaying the enormity of reefs that surround the major islands.
The tale is not only beautiful but thought-provoking. “How could anyone believe logging is worth this?” I thought to myself after seeing a reef ruined beyond repair and reduced to a dark wasteland by overlogging upriver. And, of course, there are far too many who would shrug their shoulders and believe it’s simply the cost of doing business. Too bad for nature, better luck next time. Movies like The Coral Reef Adventure are the best answer to this mindset.