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MOVIE REVIEW

Under the Sea 3D

Wonders of the 'Under' world

Australian sea lions are part of the vast universe of life seen in Howard Hall's follow-up to ''Deep Sea.'' Australian sea lions are part of the vast universe of life seen in Howard Hall's follow-up to ''Deep Sea.''
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / February 13, 2009
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Everyone has a reason for taking one of those aquatic IMAX tours of the bottom of the ocean. You like marine biology. You enjoy the illusion of being within touching distance of so many deceptively complex creatures. You covet the plastic glasses.

Whatever the reason, Howard Hall's "Under the Sea 3D" is here to inspire awe and depression with a vast universe of marine life that, barring possible ecological disaster, will be here eons after we're gone. Spent mostly in the Coral Triangle near New Guinea and later in the Great Barrier Reef, the movie serves as a primer of the creatures who dwell there.

Because there's something incredibly appealing about watching animals eat other animals, "Under the Sea" consists of generous helpings of poor little fish being chomped and swallowed in a blink; of tiny catfish schools nibbling silt along the sea floor floating over each other like shimmering blades in a motorless lawnmower; of a turtle dining on a jellyfish.

It's all a treat to behold, and, at least where the turtle and the jellyfish are concerned, it's transcendently beautiful, too. I just wish there was more of it.

As was the case with Hall's 2006 "Deep Sea" (this new film is a "seaquel") and James Cameron's "Aliens of the Deep" from 2005, the 40- to 50-minute IMAX format guarantees concentrated doses of cuteness and predation but affords too few opportunities for gawking to expand into wonder. From an exhibitor's standpoint, brevity with these movies might be an asset, but the filmmakers show us some mesmerizing sights that don't deserve to end. All day I could have watched the field of garden eels protrude from sand and sway in unison like reptilian grass, but after a minute or so it's on to the next collection of creatures.

For prolonged, non-IMAX exposure, you'll need to seek out the undersea spectaculars of the French nature filmmaker Jean Painleve, whose movies located a sort of animism in the aquatic world. He was an artist. While less completely captivating, these IMAX movies, especially Hall's, do find the beauty lurking so far beneath the surface. With Jim Carrey doing the narrating, there is also some comedy. When a big ugly fish just misses snatching a meal as it floats by, Carrey says - Carreyesquely -"That must be so frustrating!"

Not as frustrating as being a cuttlefish in heat. If "Under the Sea 3D" favors any creature, it's these squid-like creatures. Had George Lucas designed marine life, these fish might have made great space stations. The film finds a threesome - two little males following a large female - and as Carrey explains their mating ritual, the camera captures the female considering one of these two. She's more empowered and self-confident than anyone you'll find in either "Bride Wars" or "He's Just Not That Into You."

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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