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Friday, April 8, 2011

IMAX vs. IMAX: 'Born to be Wild' on 'Tornado Alley'

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Last weekend I caught a pair of new IMAX nature documentaries, Born to be Wild 3D (which screened at Atlantic Station's IMAX screen and is in general release) and Tornado Alley at Fernbank. How do they compare?

When and where:
Born to be Wild 3D: The IMAX screens at Barrett Commons, AMC Southlake, Regal Mall of Georgia, Regal Atlantic Station, opening Friday, April 8.
Tornado Alley: Fernbank Natural History Museum, through Aug. 11

Human protagonists:
Born to be Wild 3D: Borneo-based primatologist Birute Galdikas and Kenyan conservationist and elephant advocate Daphne Sheldrick
Tornado Alley: Storm-chasing filmmaker Sean Casey and the meteorological experts of the VORTEX 2 project.

Real protagonists:
Born to be Wild 3D: Adorable baby orangutans and li'l elephants - one who has a missing tail! :-(
Tornado Alley: Ominous thunderheads, shrieking winds, Old Testament-worthy funnel clouds. Plus, O'Casey drives a "TIV" (Tornado Intercept Vehicle) that looks like something out of The Road Warrior.

Movie star narrator:
Born to be Wild 3D: Morgan Freeman as the Voice of Friendly God
Tornado Alley: Bill Paxton, whose presence reminds us that Tornado Alley has pretty much all of the good things about Paxton's Twister, and none of the stupid parts.

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Tech spectacle
Born to be Wild 3D: Atlantic Station's screen looks to be easily half the size of the IMAX screens you might be used to at Fernbank or the Mall of Georgia, so it doesn't make nearly as strong an impression. Born to be Wild's 3D, however, "pops" much more impressively than any 3D you've seen in a standard movie theater over the past year. Kids will love it when the elephants kick a soccer ball "off the screen."
Tornado Alley: Not in 3D, the film really makes the most of the height of Fernbank's more or less square IMAX screen. Allowed for more vertical composition, the film can encompass the magnitude of massive storms moving across a landscape, from the ground to the multiple cloud layers.

Neat animated flourish
Born to be Wild 3D: An early shot of a world map pulls out the outlines of Kenya and Borneo, and the pulls out 2-D, archival footage to a third level, neatly setting the stage geographically.
Tornado Alley: An illustration of how the VORTEX-2 team deploys with its radar dishes and sensor-pods and stuff to record an active tornado's patterns.

Annoying Thing
Born to be Wild 3D: The inevitable habit of reading human emotions into animal behavior, such as the assertion that the parent elephants want the young ones "to feel loved." That may well be true, but sounds oversimplified.
Tornado Alley: A tell-versus-show tendency at the end. For instance, does Paxton really have to tell us "They got the shot" if they really got the shot?

Ideal audience
Born to be Wild 3D: Kids and audiences who love cute documentaries, like Babies or the non-mortality-related parts of March of the Penguins.
Tornado Alley: Budding meteorologists and anyone who loves on-line storm footage and other types of weather porn. It may be a little too loud and suspenseful for pre-schoolers, but grade schoolers should be fine.

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