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IMAX probes 'Antarctica'


A geography quiz:

What land mass is, on average, three times higher than any other continent? Has air drier than the Sahara desert? Sees just one sunrise a year?

Some have likened it to the moon, and NASA has even used its terrain to test equipment destined for a landing on Mars.

The new film opening today in the big-screen IMAX theater of the Maryland Science Center provides the answer: "Antarctica."

"Antarctica reminds us once again we have scarcely begun to understand our planet," intones the narrator midway through the film. (The movie is screened multiple times daily for a six-month run and replaces the sailing feature "Race the Wind.")

"Antarctica" skates over the history of humankind's exploration of the southernmost continent, some of its scientific uniqueness and its recent role in measuring and perhaps forecasting the pollution-caused phenomenon of global warming.

So much territory is too broad for a 38-minute film to encompass adequately, particularly the environmental aspect. So "Antarctica" may stimulate further study into the continent whose chilling terrain was first reached by humans only in this century.

The 1911 race to the South Pole between expeditions led by Roald Amundsen and the tragic Capt. Robert F. Scott provides a narrative thread in "Antarctica," and includes a present-day look at Scott's research shack. Everything has been perfectly preserved by the cold, dry climate.

We also see some fascinating black-and-white footage of other early explorers, who reached the forbidding continent in wooden ships powered by sail and primitive steam.

Even the imposing IMAX film format seems dwarfed by the scale of the terrain, only about 10 percent of which is not perpetually covered by ice.

Filmed over two eight-week summer seasons by director John Weiley and a seven-person crew, the movie offers the first views of a newly discovered feature of the aptly named Chaos Glacier: huge caves, like air bubbles but filled with water, which have formed inside the ice mass itself.

Divers with the bulky IMAX camera gear plumbed the cave through a narrow entrance, and the footage is at once enchanting and claustrophobic.

Production notes reveal that a half-hour after the divers completed shooting, the ice shifted and the entry closed completely.

Children will love a sequence on the resident penguins, accompanied by a goofy sound track that emphasizes the oddly human appearance of their portly bodies -- necessary for the fat that keeps them warm and also holds oxygen to allow them to stay under water a long time.

"The penguin on land is almost wholly ludicrous, but in the water is another thing altogether," notes the film. Submarine footage shows the creatures in a graceful swimming ballet.


Admission to the science center, including IMAX admission, is $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for students 4-17, seniors and military personnel. Hours for IMAX: every hour on the hour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; noon, 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays. Extended hours and an admission increase begin after Friday. For more information, call (410) 685-5225.

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