Film Reviews: IMAX Great White Shark 3D and Hidden Universe 3D

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 21st January 2014.

The IMAX format continues to grow in popularity with filmmakers. More and more mainstream features are being presented on the eye popping huge screen, including the latest chapter of The Hobbit trilogy. Darling Harbour is the home to the world’s largest IMAX screen and whilst the evening is saved for the blockbusters, by day it remains the domain of tourists and school groups, drawn to the gargantuan cinema and its short form documentaries.

Mostly focusing on nature and history, these cinematic attractions pose a problems for a film reviewer. They are definitely well crafted movies but are they the drawcard or simply fodder to present to tourists so they can experience IMAX on the hour? I checked out the latest two IMAX documentaries and the good news is that they both offer considerable bang for your buck. Or if you are taking your whole family, quite a few bucks.

From the marketing material, I fully expected Great White Shark 3D to be a gorefest of huge teeth and helpless sea lions. Now I realise that you are more likely to be killed reading this review than eaten by a shark but that didn’t stop me from feeling a little anxious about man eaters on the big screen in 3D. Damn you Steven Spielberg.

Narrated by the incomparable Bill Nighy, GWS3D is an entertaining and beautifully shot doco which sets out to change our attitudes towards the great white shark. Jumping across numerous locations which are home to our fishy friends, the film features scientists and activists who are working to ensure that the shark stays off the endangered species list (and out of shark fin soup).

From tour operators in South Africa who attract them to their boats so tourists can have close encounters in steel cages (dubious in my books – surely this is only teaching the great white that humans equal dinner) to free divers who simply tag the predators in the open water off the Mexican coast (OK, so the cage people have a point), we get a glimpse into the lives of those dedicated to unravelling the mysteries of the great white shark.

GWS3D was surprisingly bloodless with a cute sea lion becoming a buffet lunch scene only being hinted at. Instead, the money shot was footage of a wooden sea lion lure being attacked from below by a gigantic shark leaping out of the water. In slow motion, the perfect killing machine soars through the air. Perhaps the makers of Sharknado were onto something.

Hidden Universe 3D, an Australian production, is a much drier feature (pardon the pun). The film focuses on deep space astronomers who venture out to the Atacama desert in Chile to peer into the universe using the European Southern Observatory’s VLT (that’s the Very Large Telescope for the non-astronomers out there).

Narrated by actress Miranda Richardson, I could take or leave the human storyline component. Instead, I would have been more than happy to just sit back and enjoy 45 minutes of the beautifully 3D rendered pictures of planets, nebulas, moons and super luchadore midgets (I may have made that last one up). Those scenes are fantastic. It’s like being immersed in the opening credit sequence of Star Trek, which in my book is not a bad thing.

Great White Shark 3D and Hidden Universe 3D are now playing at IMAX Darling Harbour.


My Razzies Diary 2012

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 17th January 2012.

The awards season kicked off with the Golden Globes yesterday, however, the most important ceremony is yet to come. Every year, on the night before the Oscars, the Golden Raspberry Awards are announced to celebrate the worst in cinema. As a member of the Golden Raspberry Foundation, I take my responsibilities berry seriously. At the moment, members are deciding the nominees for the final ballot. Having wisely avoided most of the past year’s dross, I needed to watch a dud a night this week to make an informed decision. This is my Razzie diary

Monday Tonight’s delight is Just Go with It starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. I really want to like Adam Sandler but I’m constantly disappointed by his work. In 1995 I took my university friends kicking and screaming to the cinema to see Billy Madison, but they ended up loving the film. I guess his comedy schtick was fresh then. It certainly isn’t now. My test for deciding whether a comedy I’ve just watched is a dud is to watch the gag real. If the bloopers make me laugh more than the movie itself, it’s rubbish. Just Go with It is certified rubbish. There’s no chemistry between the leads and I’m not entirely sure what Nicole Kidman is doing here in a supporting role. I guess we all have bills to pay.

Tuesday Season of the Witch should be billed as part three of Nicholas Cage’s alimony trilogy, along with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Drive Angry. It’s like he has chosen a terrible hairstyle and decided to wear it for three films in a row…any three films. Remember how great he was in Leaving Las Vegas? It’s been downhill ever since. Ron Pearlman, playing an almost identical role to his one in Conan the Barbarian, is probably the best thing in this disaster. He plays a disillusioned Crusader knight, alongside Cage, who decides to take an accused witch to a monastery in order to stop the Black Plague. As you do.

Wednesday I can’t believe that Ivan Reitman directed both Ghostbusters and No Strings Attached.  This so-so romantic comedy stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Kutcher isn’t nearly as terrible as his annoying character in New Year’s Eve (my pick for Worst Film). There’s a sense of smugness in all of his performances which I dislike. Oscar winners seem to choose lighter projects after their triumphs to prove their versatility. I prefer Natalie Portman in dramatic roles. As proven here and in the Star Wars prequel trilogy she should avoid comedies.

Thursday Arthur is a remake of the classic eighties comedy which originally featured Dudley Moore. In the title role this time is Russell Brand. I like Brand in supporting roles because I think a little of his comedy style goes a long way. I’m not entirely sure if he is acting or playing himself. No wonder Katy Perry left him. The best part of this film is Helen Mirren as Arthur’s nanny, Hobson. She has a gravitas that will overcome any crappy script, including this one. My girlfriend says she would happily watch this film again. I wouldn’t, but it certainly isn’t from the bottom of the barrel. Arthur passes my blooper test. The film itself is funnier than the gag reel.

Friday I can’t take anymore of this and go to the cinema to watch The Muppets instead.