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Saturday, March 20, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

'Coral Reef ' is gentle voyage in troubled waters

Special to The Seattle Times

The key statement in "Coral Reef Adventure," a new IMAX film now playing at Pacific Science Center, is made by Rusi Vulakoro, a 45-year-old diver from the northern island of Fiji, where coral reefs are dying. "We don't inherit the earth from our parents," he says. "We borrow it from our children."

If only the filmmakers had borrowed some music from their children as well. The soundtrack is all Crosby, Stills and Nash ("Our House," "Marrakesh Express"), which is less timeless than reminiscent of a freer, loopier time some 30 years ago, and thus softens the film's immediate message of environmental devastation.

IMAX movies should, by their nature, pack a condensed wallop. In less than an hour you've got to deliver a story line, a message and breathtaking photography. You've got to teach complex environmental issues while introducing us to several main characters.

In "Coral Reef," the story line is the message: Why are coral reefs, such as the ones off Vulakoro's island, dying?

Movie review


Showtimes

**½
"Coral Reef Adventure," narrated by Liam Neeson; with Howard Hall, Michele Hall, Jean Michel-Cousteau. Directed by Greg MacGillivray from a screenplay by Osha Gray Davidson, Stephen Judson, Jack Stephens. 45 minutes. Pacific Science Center IMAX Theater, daily at 10:30 a.m., 2:15 and 3:30 p.m.

The investigators include underwater filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall, who have been diving for 30 years but look remarkably young and healthy; Jean Michel-Cousteau, carrying on the traditions of his father, Jacques; and Richard Pyle, who specializes in diving 200 feet or more below the surface. Perhaps for the sake of the story, Vulakoro is placed in the subordinate position of victim. He's the one who metaphorically waves his arms — help! — and brings in the investigators.

Coral is a living organism — not a rock or plant — and coral colonies are composed of millions of polyps. Sealife thrives around the reefs, and the relationship is often symbiotic and fascinating. Smaller fish, for example, sometimes eat the parasites within the mouths of larger fish; the smaller fish get fed while the larger fish get cleaned. What could be better?

Some great shots include an insectlike underwater critter crawling into the mouth of a very brave female diver; an octopus enclosing tentlike over its prey; and several deep-sea divers being swept into the path of 300 barrier reef sharks. The panoramic views of various island locations are, of course, gorgeous, and inspire a kind of giddy vertigo.

So why are the coral reefs dying? Not surprisingly, the answer lies within ourselves: ocean-warming, commercial fishing, silt deposits from logging. Yet the overall tone of "Coral Reef Adventure" is island-happy. The film is geared toward kids, and nothing really scary happens — beyond the fact that we're not taking very good care of their property. It's less a wallop than a ride on the Marrakesh express.

Erik Lundegaard: elundegaard@comcast.net

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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