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.