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BMZ Review: Journey into Amazing Caves
By Herb Lash


BMZ Review of Amazing Caves
Written by: Herb Lash
Source: Big Movie Zone
Date: March 2001


Category: Reviews

Some natural wonders demand attention and overwhelm on a grand scale - Large Format filmmakers will always be drawn to the splendor of subjects like Everest, the Sun, Egypt and Michael Jordan. The cave is an intriguing and less obvious subject choice for the giant screen. Cramped spaces, dark crevices and narrow fields of view go against the norm of Large Format filmmaking.  Taking IMAX® cameras into these living underworlds proves an always bold, but not always successful venture. The diverse and mysterious caves are indeed amazing - but they are also reluctant to give themselves over to the Imax camera. One is left with a sense that our rappelling, swimming and climbing caver-guides see the caves in a way the audience cannot appreciate - the film's visuals are engaging, but rarely spectacular.

Journey into Amazing Caves features two affable and skilled spelunkers Dr. Hazel Barton and school teacher/expert caver Nancy Aulenbach. Barton is in search of extremophiles -microorganisms living under the extreme conditions in a wild variety of caves. Aulenbach keeps in touch with a classroom full of curious students by way of the Internet - she posts streaming video of her latest adventures and discoveries. The film takes a general, soft science approach to its subject - basic geology and biology are touched upon with the grade school set in mind.  The film relies most heavily on the exotic caves and far-flung locales to keep the narrative momentum up to speed.

It is a curious aspect of the film that most of the spectacular imagery is captured outside the caves. Barton and Aulenbach are accompanied by a revolving team of fellow cavers as they rappel into a four million year old Arizona desert cave, make a perilous descent into a Greenland ice cave and end their globe trotting expedition with a dive/swim through a Yucatan underwater cave. Getting to these sites includes: kayaking through Colorado River rapids, camping on wind blasted glaciers and helicopter cruising over unspoiled rain forest.  The style used in each location is essentially Large Format standard fare; a quick sense of place is established with vivid natural imagery - more pretty than inventive.

The time spent inside the caves is most interesting because of the difficulty and peril involved - not because of the imagery. The existence of these caves and the daring of the cavers truly amaze, but a sense of visual awe doesn't translate to the giant screen like one might hope. The caves have the curious effect of shrinking the giant screen - an odd sense of claustrophobia does take hold and perhaps in this sense the film does give a dose of what life in a cave really feels like. But the filmmakers seem wary of spending too much uninterrupted time within the caves - conscious of the fine-line between claustrophobia as effect and as reality.

Journey into Amazing Caves is a strange film - the willingness to tackle a subject matter that defies the standard approach sets the film apart from the too often predictable world of Large Format nature documentary. Cave lovers will find enough to enjoy here - as will fans of LF films interested in seeing something at least different.

IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.

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Additional BMZ Reviews of Journey into Amazing Caves

Spelunk! by Ross Anthony
Amazing Caves: An A+ Adventure by Elizabeth Kaye McCall

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