Cameraman is in over his head with `Whales’

Whales

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
January 30, 1998

2 stars

Directed by Roger Payne and Al Giddings. Photographed by Giddings.
Running time: 40 minutes. Not rated (suitable for all ages).
Opening today at the Henry Crown Space Center’s Omnimax Theater at the Museum of Science and Industry.

With narration by Patrick Stewart and a theme score by new age musician Yanni, you’d think that “Whales” would be smooth sailing. But the Omnimax film, which opens today at the Museum of Science and Industry, is a visual drag that lasts for 40 very long minutes.

Unlike “Into the Deep” – now playing at Navy Pier’s  IMAX Theater – which captured the beauty of the ocean in both an entertaining and informative way, “Whales” is dark and  gray.

At least twice as heavy as the largest known dinosaur, the blue whale is the largest known mammal. However, watching the whales swim around, it’s difficult for moviegoers to grasp exactly how massive they are, compared with, say, a person or a house.

Whales whistle to stay in touch, and their voices carry at least 1,000 miles through the sea – an asset for the male humpbacks who “sing” to attract female whales. Their loud tunes aren’t bad – kind of a cross between a booming foghorn and Kitaro’s music filtered through a megaphone.

Part of the thrill of attending an Omnimax film is reveling in the experience of being there. But for at least a third of the film, I was wishing I was somewhere else. Some of the cinematography is breathtaking, leaving moviegoers with the impression that they’ve just parasailed over majestic cliffs.  But other footage zooms by at such a jarring pace that the viewer is left feeling light-headed – and not in a good way.

That said, there are some cute moments, especially for children. Calves, which gain 100 pounds per day during their first few weeks of life,  are depicted playfully lying on top of their mothers’ blowholes.  Misty and her calf Echo are documented navigating from Hawaiian waters to Alaska, some 3,000 miles away.

At one point, Misty is pursued by a pack of aggressive males “courting” her.

Some things are just universal.

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