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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Blue Planet' at IMAX . . . Up Close and Distant : Filmed from a space shuttle, the startling views of Earth convey ideas as powerful as their images.

November 23, 1990|MICHAEL WILMINGTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Movies are not only art and entertainment; they're also technology. And the technology behind the latest IMAX film, "Blue Planet" (at the Mitsubishi IMAX Theater in Exposition Park) is so extraordinary, its impact so overwhelming, that it may knock most audiences breathless. Fortunately, "Planet" has ideas as potent as its images.

The technical breakthroughs of Cinerama and CinemaScope pale before the showpiece shot of "Blue Planet." Taken 330 miles above the Caribbean, through the huge pillars of a space shuttle, it reveals the vast blue ball of Earth, flecked with pearly, swirling clouds, in dizzying sharp focus far, far below us. This is a deep-focus shot that might have made Orson Welles drool, one that irresistibly recalls the visionary force of Stanley Kubrick's "2001." On the vast IMAX screen--8 stories high and 70 feet wide--it becomes overpowering.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 1, 1990 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 6 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Incorrect height-- The California Museum of Science and Industry's IMAX Theater screen is five stories high, not eight, as reported in Calendar Nov. 23.

No more so, though, than many other shots in the movie: some from the Serengeti plains and Namib deserts of Africa, the volcanic mountains of Hawaii, the streets of Paris, San Francisco and Tokyo. The whole plan of "Planet" is to show us the Earth in macrocosm and microcosm, to give us the staggering totality and then zero in on both the particular and the effects: earthquakes, glacial and climatic shifts, the fairyland topography of the clouds, lightning leaping between them.

Not surprisingly, the theme that binds it all together, thanks to writer-editor Toni Myers, is ecological. And the implicit call for greater environmental conservation and planning doesn't feel forced on the material. Given what we see about what is \o7 happening \f7 to the planet, it's inevitable.

From above, it sometimes seems as if war or awful pestilence were gnawing away at us. Whole sections of the Earth in decay or erosion--in ravenously deforested Madagascar, where the hills, barren, red and muddy, slide into the sea; in Brazil, where the rain forest is vanishing at the rate of acres a day. Most disturbingly, we see the effects of this rampaging erosion and pollution. Astronaut James Buchli comments somberly over a side view of the ozone layer--all that protects the world's plethora of life from the airlessness and death of outer space: "Not very big, is it?"

The distant eye gives us a sobering picture. Our stewardship of Earth and its resources begins to seem reckless, chaotic and wildly self-destructive.

This melancholy theme ties together the spectacular views. Beyond the travelogues which have often been the forte of IMAX, "Blue Planet" becomes a plea for a rational stewardship of our world--and a deep-focus hymn to its beauty and variety. It doesn't go too far--less perhaps because, ironically enough, one of its principal sponsors was the Lockheed Corp., than because of the sheer magnitude of the logistics involved. But the images eloquently speak for themselves.

"Blue Planet," will alternate with two other excellent IMAX movies, "Chronos" and "Grand Canyon." Many of its makers--Myers, producer Graeme Ferguson, principal director Ben Burtt, principal cinematographer David Douglas (assisted by, among others, space shuttle astronauts)--are old IMAX hands. It's clear that in this film they're trying to outdo themselves. And have.

If you've never seen an IMAX film--and parents should be advised that "Blue Planet" (Times rated: family) is not only eminently suitable for children, but one that youngsters probably \o7 should \f7 see--this is almost certainly the one with which to begin. Information: (213) 744-2014.

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