Thursday, January 8, 2009
Though the dive crew behind the new IMAX 3D film Sharks 3D spent hours in the water with the ocean’s most feared predators, there was only one instance when anyone was rattled by the fish during a filming period that stretched nine months and included 500 underwater hours. Director Jean-Jacques Mantello says that his brother was swimming behind the boat on the surface of the water off Socorro Island in Mexico when a group of silky Galapagos sharks bumped him with their noses to see if he was alive or dead. “Believe me, he swam very fast to the boat,” Mantello says, in a telephone interview from his office in southern France. “He could have won the gold medal at the Olympic Games.”
For the most part, though, Mantello says he and his crew felt a serenity or tranquility while filming the sharks underwater. Part of this is because the whole crew had previous experience being around the marine predators; another reason was that the divers knew that sharks don’t usually associate humans with their next meal.
“We are not the food of sharks,” Mantello says. “If the sharks would like human food, they could come to our beaches and eat humans.”
Hence, the greatest challenge of making the 42-minute IMAX 3D movie was not getting over a fear of sharks but locating the dwindling populations of the great fish. Mantello recalls that it took a whole month and a half to find any hammerhead sharks to film. The crew traveled to a spot off the coast of Baja that used to swarm with the alien-looking hammerheads but found nothing but other fish. Later, they finally got the footage they wanted off Colombia’s Malpelo Island. “We didn’t know the problem [plummeting shark populations] was so big,” Mantello says. “We were very surprised in some places.”
To plaster images of sharks cruising through the oceans on the Cannery Row IMAX Theatre’s 65-foot wide screen, projectionists Adam Chmielewski and David Porter spent 16 hours working to pack up Polar Express until next holiday season and prepping for Sharks 3D, which debuted this past Tuesday. Along with projection manager Todd Stone, Chmielewski and Porter had to spool Polar Express onto a shipping platter to make room for the incoming Sharks 3D, which was shipped to the theater in seven separate boxes. The film for the 42-minute movie would be five miles long if outstretched, or longer than the distance between Monterey and Marina.
The small crew spliced together the 14 reels of Sharks 3D film into two reels for the left and right eye. They then synched the new film to the audio. Though the trio learned the ins and outs of the process from an IMAX technician over two and a half weeks before trying it themselves, Stone says no amount of training can prepare you for everything that can go wrong including when the film wraps around the inside of the projector. “A substantial amount of everything we learned,” Stone says, “was on the job.” –Stuart Thornton
Presented by famed ocean environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau, the United Nations Environment Programme and 3D Entertainment, Sharks 3D definitely seeks to ring alarm bells concerning the decimation of the fish by what the film says is a super predator known as industrialized man. The film at times goes a little too far out of its way to explain that the stringy land bound species known as homo sapiens are not a hot item on any shark’s menu.
The film is narrated by a turtle that floats from one segment to the next like a kite that’s broken free of its string. Clearly included for children, the spunky reptile says cutesy things like: “I love catching up on the latest turtle talk.”
Though adults might not be amused by the snarky sea creature’s narration, there are several scenes of sharks that are sure to hold the attention of grown-ups. One involves a hammerhead skimming over the surface of a reef like a vacuum cleaner and picking up a dead reef shark. Another is a segment where the camera almost seems to be sucked into the gaping mouth of a whale shark, which can grow to be as long as a school bus.
Though sharks are being billed as the stars of this film, the predator’s many co-stars get an unexpected amount of screen time. This may be because a lot of these other organisms prove to be really striking in a 3D format. Jellyfish flutter out towards the audience like soap bubbles, while sea lions twist and twirl through the water like gymnasts. Other shark relatives almost steal the show including the sawfish, whose serrated snout juts out from the screen like a plank, and the giant Pacific manta ray, which glide over the ocean floor like stealth bombers.
SHARKS 3D (2½) Directed by Jean-Jacques Mantello. • Starring great white sharks, whale sharks and hammerhead sharks. • Not rated, 42 min. • At Cannery Row IMAX Theatre.