The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 67.0°F | Mostly Cloudy



Visually Stunning

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

Produced and directed by Greg MacGillivray

Written by Tim Cahill and Steve Judson

Narrated by Pierce Brosnan

The film Dolphins is a quintessential OmniMax movie, with all the inherent strengths and weaknesses of the giant screen format. It works marvels as a travelogue, filling the screen with eye-popping images -- and it is rather short on story and characters.

There’s no fault to be found in the larger-than-life images on the five-story tall OmniMax screen; Dolphins is produced and directed by Greg MacGillivray, of Everest fame, and one can argue that it is, actually, better than the real thing. After all, most of us would need to incur sizable expenses to travel to the Bahamas or Terra Del Fuego, and even then not everyone would be able to swim with the dolphins. This film takes us there, in a convenient forty minutes, and puts us right in the water, right in the middle of a group of either spotted or bottleneck dolphins.

All the usual trappings of giant screen filmmaking are here, and then some: not only do we get breathtaking helicopter shots of the unbelievably blue waters of the Caribbean and lucid underwater photography, but even the transitions between scenes are spectacular. A shot that zooms toward the giant map of the Bahamas, which gradually becomes animated and is finally blown away to reveal the real islands, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The movie is almost as exciting when it concerns its subjects. The best scene is an early one, when a dolphin takes an IQ test with unsettling accuracy. There are also nifty shots of dolphins swimming around, hunting fish, rapidly having sex (I’m serious), etc.

Dolphins also attempts to say something about humans, and here it is less successful -- although not for the lack of trying, with the focus on two utterly fascinating human beings. First, there’s the naturalist Dean Bernal, who is a close friend with a dolphin named JoJo -- and this is real friendship, emotionally invested, with detailed wordless communication between the partners.

The other person is marine biologist Kathleen Dudzinski, a veritable treasure trove of information about dolphins, committed intellectually and emotionally to their study. The sight of her swimming among the dolphins as virtually their equal is singularly impressive. What we don’t get is practically any insight into these two human characters: Bernal communicates better with JoJo than with the documentary camera, and Dudzinsky has only a couple of brief scenes where her passion surfaces. For the rest of the film, these two are ciphers, given only generic voiceovers.

Perhaps I’m spoiled by the white-knuckle drama of Everest or the unexpected hilarity of Alaska, but Dolphins also feels very light on story, with only a vaguely related sequence of vignettes instead of a structure. If one is to judge OmniMax movies on their own specialized merits, Dolphins is very good; but if one is to apply more stringent criteria and think of them as movies in general, it is merely good.