In the great tradition of IMAX nature documentaries, Journey to the South Pacific is a gigantic visual feast. The cinematography is spectacular and the Indonesian setting of West Papua is a tropical paradise. The film focuses on a young boy, Jawi, as he travels around the reefs of Raja Ampat on the Kalabia, a colorfully painted ship that is a floating marine conservation education program sponsored by Conservation International. The film is narrated by both Cate Blanchett and Jawi. Ms. Blanchett discusses the sea life and the broader ecological issues while Jawi tells the story of his journey.
While the film shows a wide variety of sea life it focuses specifically on sea turtles, manta rays, and whale sharks. One of the most magical moments is when the filmmakers captured a massive shoal of anchovies shimmering and morphing through incredible flowing shapes as they dive and turn to avoid predators. The turtles and the rays are charming and fascinating but the real stars of the show are the whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. Jawi tells us about his fears of swimming with the whale sharks – because they’re sharks – and with their monstrous size he’s worried that they might swallow him whole. Visitors to the Pacific Science Center can get an idea of what he’s talking about because there is a 25-foot long inflatable whale shark in the lobby of the theater. At 25 feet the model is only the size of an adolescent. Adult whale sharks can grow to 40 feet or more.
Nothing bad happens and Jawi comes away with ideas of how to help preserve the delicate coral reef environments. At a relatively short 40 minute running time, however, the audience will only get a cursory look at the environment and its issues. In addition, the filmmakers spend time on a silly sequence where Jawi mentions that it’s as if the reef is singing to him and they put music to the movements of the fish that make it appear they are singing. This is just one of the elements that makes it clear the film is targeted at a very young audience, ages 5 and up at least.
Journey to the South Pacific opens at the Pacific Science Center Boeing IMAX Theater January 24, 2014.