Ice Ice Baby
Since the advent of television, movie theaters have battled for viewers. Their major strategy has been to manufacture "movie experiences" through weapons such as 3-D glasses, popcorn, Milk Duds, and other ineffable extras that will draw people away from the warm glow of the idiot box.
A "no food and drink" policy leaves the Science Place's TI Founders IMAX Theater in Fair Park relying on a slightly different, and in the end more powerful, experience--total immersion. Stationed in chairs designed to cradle the body, the audience members wait apprehensively for the carte blanche concave dome above them to blossom into a new reality when the lights go down. Snacks, and self, are soon forgotten.
When the first scene of Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure manifests with cameras zooming low over icy oceans, the IMAX feeling pulls the theater's occupants briskly through a crevice of a glacier with high walls of ice towering on both sides. The Dolby Surround sounds and the incredible images that whisk by on the edges of your peripheral vision fool the senses, inducing a feeling of vertigo and movement.
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure documents a historical event that could arguably be called the greatest survival tale of all time. The members of a 1914 Antarctic expedition are stranded in packed ice far from civilization for two years. The testament to the optimism and leadership of Sir Ernest Shackleton is clear, and the feat of survival against impossible odds is great. It's inspirational stuff, but unfortunately the movie doesn't convey the full impact of their fight to survive.
The film is anchored by a set of pictures taken by the ship's photographer, Frank Hurley, but these telling images are a weakness on the IMAX screen where they're just centered, their static presence drawing the viewer inward. Nothing says isolation better than a single black-and-white photograph of the expedition's ship Endurance standing alone in the clutches of the unforgiving ice that would eventually crush her--except its placement in the center of the giant blank screen.
Recreations, impeccably authentic, attempt to bring momentum to the story by showing harsh environments and heroic deeds. Lifeboats toss on stormy seas and daily activities of the crew are portrayed on the wastelands of ice floes and desolate, rocky landfalls. We may feel the loneliness by watching sailors left behind wave goodbye to their captain as he pushes off to find rescue, but the action is stranded at the bottom of the screen. The images--though telling, provoking, and beautiful--seem dwarfed by the unfulfilled promise the theater makes.
There's a book about Shackleton and the Endurance, and perhaps the written word is a better medium for this story where the imagination can fill a space greater than even the largest of screens.
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