A wondrous blending of art and science, the Imax 3-D film "Galapagos" finds Carole Baldwin, a Smithsonian marine biologist, retracing Darwin's 1835 journey to the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador that yielded his theory of evolution. The isolation of the Galapagos that made it such a rich habitat both on land and sea remains the same--at least for now.
Whereas Darwin had to make do with a glass-bottomed bucket with which to peer into the ocean depths, Baldwin arrives with a full team of experts and all that modern technology has to offer--including the only two Imax 3-D cameras in the world--to record her expedition. With the Johnson Sea Link II, an acrylic-domed submersible that descends 3,000 feet to the ocean floor, Baldwin's able to suck up almost any small creature that catches her eye. Or she can use a large mechanical claw to grab larger creatures. Surely, Darwin would be green with envy at the sight of the Sea Link, which in its high-tech way is as fanciful a device as H.G. Wells' time machine or a Rube Goldberg contraption.
Baldwin, who is young, attractive and unpretentious, narrates the film (along with Kenneth Branagh), and resurfaces with at least a dozen hitherto unknown species from the ocean floor--including exotic-looking tiny fish that seem part lizard and a diminutive eel-like creature with an amazing jaw structure, at once delicate and ferocious.
Almost equally exciting are sequences with the doctor in scuba gear diving in shallower water, where, among many other wonders, she encounters a clutch of exceptionally large and menacing moray eels. On land she encounters the same creatures Darwin did, noting that the shells of the giant tortoises vary from island to island and that the Galapagos boasts 13 varieties of finches, all pointing toward a process of evolution based on the need to adapt for survival. She and naturalist Mathias Espinosa also do a bit of spelunking as well.
Imax 3-D is perfect for this kind of expedition. Nature movies tend to be very similar to one another, but the gorgeous and awesome "Galapagos" quite literally adds an exciting dimension to the experience. Al Giddings and David Clark's film is a real thrill, one that can be enjoyed by the entire family.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: ideal for all ages.
A Smithsonian Institution and Imax Ltd. presentation. In association with the National Science Foundation and sponsored by America Online, of a Mandaly Media Arts production. Producers-directors Al Giddings and David Clark. Executive producers Laurence O'Reilly, Andrew Gellis, Peter Guber and Barry Clark. Written by David Clark and Barry Clark. Underwater photography directed by Al Giddings. Topside photography directed by Andrew Kitzanuk and Reed Smoot. Music Mark Isham. Narrators Kenneth Branagh, Carole Baldwin. Running time: 40 minutes.
At the Imax Theater, California Science Center, 700 State Drive, Exposition Park. Through Jan. 2. (213) 744-7400.