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O. C. LIVE | KIDS ON FILM

Message of 'Living Sea' Lurks Near Surface of Its 3-D Effects

"The Living Sea," an Oscar-nominated Imax documentary, subtly promotes environmental protection while celebrating the vastness of the ocean, the power of its storm-driven waves and the diversity of the animal life beneath the surface.

December 19, 1996|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Haven't adjusted to 3-D headgear? Nostalgic for the old-fashioned 2-D Imax format that almost made you sick to your stomach?

Like the original multi-camera films that took us rafting down the Grand Canyon or zipping along Big Sur, "The Living Sea" (made by Laguna Beach-based MacGillivray Freeman Films) doesn't need 3-D goggles to transport us right into heavy seas with Coast Guard rescue boats or along the water's surface among the closely packed Palau Islands in the South Pacific.

That's the fun of it, of course, for kids such as Santiago Dominguez, 9, and his friend Eric Sawall, 8, of San Clemente. "You felt like you moved," Santiago said.

A veteran producer of surf movies with a sense of humor, Greg MacGillivray elicited some chuckles with time-lapse scenes of humans scurrying across sandy beaches, tides coming and going and sailboats and motorboats in a bay.

He also included scenes of California wave and wind surfers, which pleased Clint Smith, 4, of La Habra. "I can go surfing!" he exclaimed.

But most of the movie was devoted to the life under the surface of the world's oceans, and kids such as Clint were astonished to learn about all the kelp and coral, jellyfish and cuttlefish, whales and clams that share the sea. "He kept asking, 'Is that under the water?' " his mother, Lisa, said.

His sister Jessica, 7, was particularly intrigued by the humpback whales--which appeared nearly life-size on the 90-foot-wide screen--and the cuttlefish, a squid-like mollusk that can change its spots and its color to attract mates or escape danger. But the cuttlefish didn't seem to live up to its name, Jessica observed. "I said, I hope it doesn't cuddle there too much," she said with a laugh.

Another high point for kids was the exploration of an ancient saltwater lake in the Palau Islands, near the Philippines. The isolated lake contains jellyfish that no longer need their stingers and toxins that could be fatal to scientist explorers at the lowest depths. Back in California's Monterey Bay, kids also learned how researchers use remote vehicles, such as space explorers, to send back televised images of strange life forms thousands of feet below the water's surface.

With the beautiful images, a simple narration by Meryl Streep and music by Sting, the oceanography and biology lessons went down like medicine in sugar. In fact, many kids didn't even realize the movie's message, repeated several times, that all life is dependent on the ocean, that we still know little about it, but we must learn as much as we can because "we can't protect what we don't understand."

Some viewers who came to experience the 3-D Imax technology were surprised and had to adjust their expectations to the traditional film dimensions. "We forgot it was [only] 2-D," said Sean Dollar, 9, of Laguna Beach. "But we liked it anyway."

* CHILDREN'S LISTINGS, F20

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