Release Date: April 6, 2018
Director: David Douglas and Drew Fellman
Production Company: IMAX
The world’s cutest animals get the IMAX 3D treatment so audiences can enjoy seeing the big balls of fluff from China larger than life and right there in front of you. The documentary is narrated by Kristen Bell, herself and icon of cuteness, and has cheerful soundtrack composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. That is when there aren’t pop songs playing, such as the musical cue when a trio of panda cubs toddle around to ZZ Top’s “Sharped Dressed Man” (I guess because their black & white patterns resemble a tuxedo?).
But beneath all of this cuteness there is a more serious story here. The habitat of the giant panda is shrinking and the species is endangered. At the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding we meet the scientist Rong Hou, known as the Panda Mother, who has lead efforts to successfully breed giant pandas with over 200 cubs born. The next step is reintroducing pandas to the wild so Rong Hou visits New Hampshire where Ben Kilham takes in orphaned black bears and cares for them until they can survive in the wild on their own.
Adapting Kilham’s methods to the panda cubs at Chengdu involves bringing in another American, Jacob Owens, and Chinese scientist Wen Lei Bi to work with the cubs. One cub named Qian Qian is determined to be a good candidate for introduction the wild, and Owens forms a close bond with her over a year spend in a 50-acre, protected reserve. Finally, Qian Qian is ready, and a small gate is opened to allow her into the true wilderness.
A dramatic moment occurs when Owens is visiting family in America and the signal from Qian Qian’s collar shows that she hasn’t moved in 24 hours. Wen Lei Bi leads a team that hikes deep into the forest where they find Qian Qian trapped in a tree, and they have to spend several days giving her food and water until she’s healthy enough to return to the reserve for care. The film ends on a moment of uncertainty as a lot of effort went into introducing Qian Qian into the wild but it’s unclear if she will ever be able to survive there or if this approach will work with other great panda cubs. But it’s good to know that there are people trying.
Release Date: 14 April 2000
Director: Greg MacGillivray
Watched this at the Mugar Omnimax Theater at the Boston Museum of Science. It kind of falls into every cliche you’d expect of an animal-themed IMAX film, but who can complain about seeing larger than life dolphins leaping and diving? Pierce Brosnan provides the narration but often yields to the featured scientists who share their knowledge and passion regarding these aquatic mammals. On the odd side, the soundtrack is by Sting which makes me wonder what dolphins did to deserve this (especially since most of the music is reggae-tinged instrumental arrangements of Sting’s hit songs which have nothing to do with dolphins).
Title: Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage
Release Date: 1999
Director: David Clark, Al Giddings
Production Co: IMAX, Mandalay Media Arts, National Science Foundation
Genre: Documentary | Nature | IMAX
Rating: *** 1/2
Another great IMAX film experience at the Boston Museum of Science. The film immerses one in the lunar landscape of the Galapagos Islands with it’s many uniquely-evolved creatures and plants. Then it takes you deep beneath the sea to explore newly-discovered aquatic creatures. The star of the film is zoologist Carol Baldwin (and fellow William & Mary alum) who among other things takes a submersible into the deep ocean and sucks up specimens of sea life with a nifty vacuum tube. My 7-year-old son gave the movie a thumbs up as well.
Title: Africa: The Serengeti
Release Date: April 1, 1994
Director: George Casey
Production Co: Graphic Films
Country: United States
Genre: Documentary | Nature Film | IMAX
My son and I saw this movie at the Museum of Science twice in the past month because he liked it that much. I also saw it nearly 20 years ago when it was a new IMAX release. The movie dramatizes in the large-screen format the annual migration of wildebeest across East Africa’s grassland plains. Other animals such as lions, cheetahs, zebras, crocodiles, baboons, elephants, giraffes, and hippopotamus are visited along the way as well as the human natives of the Serengeti, the Masai. There are some cheesy moments (Masai on a mountaintop watching a passing hot air balloon, a newborn wildebeest’s struggle to walk played full hilt for the drama) but overall this is a terrific glimpse into one of the world’s greatest wild places. And it’s narrated by James Earl Jones who says the word “predator” like no one else. I could watch it again.