In less than 40 minutes, an underwater IMAX adventure takes you below the surface for a macabre morality play.

The colorful Mantis Shrimp puts on a fearsome show to scare off an invader in California waters. Copyright Howard Hall Productions. Credit: Michele Hall

It’s hard to believe Tim Burton wasn’t involved in the making of the new IMAX film Deep Sea 3D.

When Johnny Depp‘s gentle over-enunciations co-mingle with Danny Elfman‘s eerily evocative melodies, only quirky creatures and lighthearted depictions of death are required to instantly embody the creepy-delicious worlds that exist in the mind of the Edward Scissorhands’ director. Fortunately for Deep Sea 3D‘s skipper Howard Hall, an underwater dive toward a coral reef (or the ocean floor) reveals Burton’s imagination incarnate swimming and crawling in all directions.

From the fabulously decorated rainbow nudibranch sea slug to the stumpy body of the ocean sunfish to the forest of clear jellyfish that open the mega-sized movie, every image of the sea is weirdly disgusting yet provocatively beautiful. This aesthetic incongruity is totally jarring but, in the words of an art lover gazing at “The Kramer” portrait in a classic episode of Seinfeld said, “He is a loathsome, offensive brute, yet I can’t look away!”

Just try to take your eyes off the suspenseful, but ultimately anticlimactic duel between a mantis shrimp and an octopus. It’s impossible. I tried. With the occasionally dizzying 3D image (keep in mind how hot you look in those glasses), the underwater world has never appeared more real without the use of scuba gear.

As for the unfortunate fatality required of any Burtonesque work, Deep Sea 3D is suspenseful cinema at its most child-appropriate. I sat in horrified amazement as a Triton trumpet snail drilled a hole in a sea star, sucked out its venom and filled its prey with corrosive acid, causing the helpless star to dissolve from the inside out. Honestly, the creatures of the sea have evolved some of the most inefficient and gruesome methods of execution in any ecosystem. After this IMAX, public hangings will look like a sing-along on “Sesame Street.”

Over the breathless underwater action, the disembodied voices of Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet provide narration and side-commentary, mostly addressing the audience but occasionally talking to one another. As the 39-minute film nears its conclusion, the Oscar nominees deliver a moralistic PSA: Overfishing has drained our waters of select species, disrupting the delicate ecosystem. (Hmmm…guess there was no real good place to stick that line.)

While, contrary to the title, much of the action takes place in shallow waters—and the final environmental message feels tacked on—Deep Sea 3D will cause childish wonder and glee in adults and kids alike…especially the ones with a penchant for the macabre.

Filmmakers capture the graceful Pacific Octopus as it floats through turquoise waters in California. Copyright Howard Hall Productions. Credit: Howard Hall

Originally published March 8, 2006


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