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IMAX offers dazzling look at volcanoes


In case you had trouble getting good seats for the recent eruptions in Japan and the Philippines, the Maryland Science Center's new IMAX film, "Ring of Fire," will give you a dazzlingly vivid look at some of the world's angriest volcanoes.

The 50-minute movie, open to the public beginning Saturday, starts in Chile and traces the string of volcanoes that circles the edge of the Pacific, north to Alaska and back south through Japan to Indonesia.

Geologists have dubbed this volcanic loop the "Ring of Fire" because three-quarters of the world's 600 active volcanoes are here.

Along the way, the film pauses to show spectacular footage of Mount St. Helens in Washington state, Sakurajima in Japan and Mount Merapi in Indonesia. And like the other IMAX offerings from the Science Center, there is no shortage of breath-taking images to fill the 55-foot-high, 70-foot-wide screen.

Tremendous plumes of ash explode into the sky, and rivers of gushing lava seem so hot that your eyes may sweat. There is even a series of still photographs -- spanning only several seconds -- showing a whole side of Mount St. Helens melting away in one eruption.

The most frightening sequence, however, may be from a Hawaiian island as lava eats its way slowly across a village. Like a bad science fiction movie monster of the '50s, the mass of burning, oozing molten goo methodically engulfs everything between it and the ocean.

But this film does not dwell on its dramatic footage. "Ring of Fire" also tells of the people and animals who live on the lip of destruction, clinging, fearing, but finally adapting.

The 7,000 residents of Sakurajima island periodically wipe ash from their cars, looking surprisingly like Marylanders after a heavy snowfall. Indonesians sell sulfur they recover from the mouth of Kawah Ijen, resigned to an early death from the poisonous gases they inhale. And Japanese snow monkeys bathe in springs kept warm by volcanic heat.

There is also a segment devoted to the 1989 San Francisco earthquake -- the geologic cousin of the volcano -- and how its survivors worked together to rebuild that city.

Because of the relative infrequency of eruptions, filming and production took more than seven years and cost $5 million.

The project was a joint effort of the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Museum Educational Productions, Inc., the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center, and Graphic Films Corp.

Starting Saturday, the Maryland Science Center will be showing "Ring of Fire" throughout the summer on the hour, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Both the IMAX feature and the Davis Planetarium are free with admission to the Science Center, which costs $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for students 4-17, military personnel, and seniors. For information, call (301) 685-5225.

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