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This article by Caroline Calogero was published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on July 14,

1999. All rights reserved.

IMAX’s Intimate View of the Deep

Cocos Island is the stuff of legend, serving as the

inspiration for the settings of Robert Louis Stevenson’s "Treasure

Island" and Michael Crichton’s "Jurassic Park." The remote

rainforest island, 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, has never

been inhabited. Neither pirates nor treasure hunters have succeeded

in finding its fabled caches of gold and silver, but a different kind

of treasure awaits today’s divers. The natural wonders of Cocos Island

are captured in "Island of the Sharks," a new IMAX

giant-screen

underwater documentary featured this summer at the Liberty Science

Center. The spectacular 40-minute film is designed to immerse its

viewers in the waters of an exotic Pacific world to swim with sharks,

manta rays, marlin, and giant sea turtles.

To the uninitiated, Cocos Island sounds like the most dangerous place

on earth. Boasting the world’s highest concentration of large marine

predators, its waters teem with more sharks per cubic meter of water

than any place else on the planet. But the renowned underwater

filmmakers

Howard Hall and Michele Binder Hall, director and producer

respectively

of "Island of the Sharks," look at it a little differently.

"It’s a great place to make a large-format film," says

director

Howard Hall. "You see unbelievable schools of hammerhead sharks

— sometimes 400 of them filling your field of vision. It’s common

on a single dive to see 200 or 300 white-tip reef sharks, silky

sharks,

black-tip sharks. But the fact is, they’re just not interested in

us. You just need to have a healthy respect for them."

In addition to the undisputed top predator, the shark, an

extraordinary

abundance of sea life swims in Cocos Island’s waters, owing to unique

underwater geography that encourages the growth of plankton, the

foundation

of the food chain. Vibrant tropical reef fish and moray eels abound,

as well as animals like stingrays, sharks, and tuna, which travel

thousands of miles for the feast.

The giant IMAX screen may be the perfect medium for a summertime film

visit to the Pacific. "The screen is eight stories high and 100

feet across. You are immersed in the scene — it’s as close to

being underwater as you can get without getting wet," says NOVA

producer Paula Apsell. The film is a production of NOVA/WGBH Boston

and Howard Hall Productions, with the participation of the New England

Aquarium, and support from the National Science Foundation.

For the husband-and-wife filmmakers, the truly compelling part of

the story is animal behavior. "The strength of the films we make

is bringing animal behavior to the screen," says Howard. "It’s

not just beautiful animals, it’s what they’re doing. We want to give

people a sense of the lives of marine life so that they appreciate

it more, and hopefully, want to do something to protect our

oceans."

The Halls’ films are well known for giving an intimate look at the

private lives of marine creatures, which enlighten and often surprise

viewers. "We discovered an animal we didn’t even know lived there,

called a mantis shrimp," says Michele. "It lives buried under

the sand and suddenly springs out and snatches fish passing overhead.

It’s only about a foot long, but it could literally take your fingers

off."

Careful observation techniques and filming that took place over the

course of six separate expeditions paid off. "Island of the

Sharks"

features behaviors never before recorded on film, including a dramatic

sequence of silky sharks feeding on a swirling school of jacks.

Sensing

the presence of danger, thousands of jacks swim together in an

iridescent

school. Several silky sharks close in, circling the school until it

tightens into a frenzied mass, or bait ball. Suddenly, the silkies

sweep into the bait ball, slashing jacks with their razor-sharp teeth

and devouring them until the school is decimated.

Capturing these extraordinary behaviors, especially in large format

film, is no mean feat, even for experts like the Halls. With the

camera

weighing in at 250 pounds with its underwater housing, the highest

quality film image in the world is demanding of its practitioners.

"Part of what I really enjoy about filmmaking is dealing with

making things happen in a technical sense, says Howard, who relishes

the challenges. "The IMAX camera poses huge challenges for an

underwater filmmaker. And I love it; I like being able to take this

bulky, heavy gear down underwater, all the lights, the heavy tripods

and make it all work." Hall’s technical innovations, including the

underwater housing, custom lighting and tripod, are invaluable to

the effort.

The film also sets out to dispel some misconceptions. Contrary to

the "Jaws" stereotype, the film crew and hundreds of sharks

co-existed peacefully. "I was jostled by a shark rushing after

some fish, but that was my closest encounter," reports Howard.

Michele believes the shark’s reputation needs reappraisal.

"Everybody’s

fascinated by sharks, but there’s more to them than what they

eat,"

she says. "I’d like viewers to get past the image of sharks as

vicious creatures, and learn what’s really fascinating about them

— their sophisticated sensory systems, unique physiology and

behavior."

Island of the Sharks, Liberty Science Center,

Liberty

State Park, Jersey City, 201-200-1000. Admission to the IMAX Dome

Theater only is $8.50 adults; $6.50 children 2 to 18 and seniors.

The film website is at www.pbs.org/nova/cocos


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