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King of the Underworld

Despite feeling kinda rotten, I did venture out to the movies on Saturday night (armed with a hefty bag of throat lozenges) for an impromptu double feature. At the top of the bill was James Cameron’s IMAX extravaganza Aliens of the Deep and, all I can say is, if Cameron wants to make Battle Angel Alita using this funky 3-D technology, hail to the King. Granted, I haven’t seen a 3-D movie since the days before Captain Eo. Nevertheless, the effect was much improved, and made what could have been a staid underwater documentary comprised of what look to be outtakes from The Abyss into a riveting, jaw-dropping wonder.

I’ll admit, I was also fond of Cameron’s central conceit here, which is that our best bet for finding life in this solar system — at Europa, say — would be of the kind inexplicably thriving around thermal vents in the darkest, deepest parts of the ocean, where the sun never shines (and thus photosynthesis never takes place.) And what strange life it is! Innumerable swarming shrimp scuttle between ice-cold and boiling-hot water with nary an antenna twitch. Strange symbiotic tube worms ensnare food for their inner bacteria, which digests for them. Ethereal jellyfish float by, improbably yet undeniably alive. And, thanks to the 3-D, it seems you can reach out and touch all of these creatures just before your eyes — in fact, you can see them better in their natural habitat than any human being possibly could. It’s really quite amazing.

Like I said, I don’t know if Aliens of the Deep would be everyone’s cup of tea — most of the film just involves young astrobiologists and underwater explorers enthusing over their wild and crazy jobs in tiny little subs. But, whenever a strange new animal popped up on the screen, and particuarly when the camera hurtles past the moons of Jupiter on its CGI-way to far-flung Europa, I thought to myself, “Now, that’s Edutainment!”

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