Under the Sea 3D

2009-02-13 (Limited release)

Under the Sea 3D offers a rare and gorgeous look at marine life from the heart of the Coral Triangle, home to more marine species than any other place on earth. It’s more than a “look” of course. The IMAX 3D “experience” of larger than life images swirling before you or lunging at you is both thrilling and educational, tackling global climate change, species decline, and pollution in a matter-of-fact manner, maintaining a tone that is, if not light, at least gentle.

Filmed in the waters from Papua, New Guinea and Indonesia to South Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Under the Sea 3D introduces us to an array of unusual and beautiful marine life. Interspersed with images of Green Sea Turtles, Australian Sea Lions, and the Great White Shark are those less familiar: a field of synchronously waving Garden Eels; the Leafy Sea Dragon camouflaging itself perfectly in the underwater vegetation; a tentative mating dance between a female Giant Cuttlefish and her two small, timid male suitors; and the Chambered Nautilus bouncing gracefully along the ocean bottom, its shell making soft clicking sounds as it bumps and ricochets against other shells, coral, and rock.

Narrator Jim Carrey explains the symbiotic relationships among the different species and the delicate balance that holds the system in place. Running just 40 minutes, the film focuses on three species in particular, the Giant Cuttlefish, the Chambered Nautilus and the Leafy Sea Dragon. Aided by Carrey’s cute one-liners and some cuter soundtrack choices (“Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” during that Cuttlefish mating dance), the movie is certainly appealing. When Carrey informs us there are only six species of nautiloids left, where there used to be upwards of 2,000, or that the underwater gardens of South Australia are beginning to die out and with them, we’re feeling invested.

Under the Sea 3D asserts that global warming causes ocean acidification, as too much carbon dioxide in the sea water changes its chemical balance, inhibiting the production of calcium carbonate, the foundation of the coral reefs, cuttlebones, and nautilus shells, as well as the shells and skeletons of thousands of other species. Because we see the effects on our new friends, the lesson becomes a little more personal, a little less abstract and catch-phrase-y.

Such explanatory narration, earnest and careful, is also decidedly apolitical. Focused on the marine life affected by climate change, Under the Sea 3D does not lecture on the causes or sources of the carbon dioxide that causes global warming. (In fact, the term “global warming” is used only once.) The movie also omits references to evolution. When describing the slow movement of the Leafy Sea Dragon, for example, Carrey explains that “sea dragons are not designed to swim fast or far.” (This gesture towards Intelligent Design is especially striking during this year, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth).

Such language suggests a deliberate effort by the filmmakers to keep audiences from getting caught on an ideological or political sticking point and thereby missing theirs. Then again, the film claims in closing that, “We finally seem ready to accept responsibility” and respond accordingly — assuming that “we” all agree on this point. Indeed, there can be no arguing that the loss of such a brilliant and diverse display of marine life would be needlessly tragic.

RATING 8 / 10