By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 27, 2002
IMAX gets back to its roots
Australia: Land Beyond Time (Not rated, probably G) (43 min.) -- The newest addition to the IMAX lineup at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry is a throwback to what the format intended to do: immerse viewers in a faraway place. No boy bands harmonizing, no mainstream hits stretched too wide for comfort, just a camera and a continent.
Australia isn't the most picturesque place IMAX has taken moviegoers, but it's certainly among the most interesting. Considered the driest vegetated continent on Earth, the place was a rain forest attached to Antarctica, also tropical, 30-million years ago. It's a continent where a prime geological attraction is the world's largest exposed rock, for goodness' sake. Take away Crocodile Dundee and whatever Outback is selling, and rural Down Under is a rugged dust bowl where survival is barely preferable to the alternative.
Yet, life finds a way there. Revealing how it happens, through 4-billion years of evolution creating some of the world's strangest animals, makes David Flatman's film constantly watchable. Even familiar creatures such as kangaroos and koala bears have more to their makeup than pop culture informs us. Australia: Land Beyond Time is filled with a-ha trivia (Did you know koalas rest for up to 19 hours each day?) and, of course, closer-than-close views of wildlife doing what comes naturally. The 'roos are the stars, and we see them kickboxing for courtship and a "joey" climbing into his mother's pouch.
Flatman's cameras were rolling when the Outback broke one of its droughts, which can last for a decade, kicking off a frenzy of feeding and breeding among fish, fowl, mammals and marsupials. The result is a food chain strong enough to sustain those dry periods, a recurring miracle of nature preserved on film. Alex Scott's scholarly narration often gets as dry as the landscape, befitting such a traditional museum piece.
One postscript: MOSI gets a thank you in the end credits for its financial support. Spokeswoman Beverly Littlejohn said the "donation" was a commitment to show the film for an extended engagement, meaning it will rotate in the IMAX Dome Theater lineup for the next few years. Australia: Land Beyond Time will showcased through Dec. 31. B-plus
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