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NEWEST IMAX DOC IS PRETTY DEEP STUFF.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

YOU'D THINK THAT an IMAX documentary called ``Volcanoes of the Deep Sea'' would show us some, well, underwater volcanoes. But nah, no new Hawaiian island-in-the-making here.

What director Stephen Low (``Titanica'') is interested in illuminating on the giganto screen are hydrothermal vents, those spouts of superheated gas and particles from the Earth's molten core that split through the ocean floor some 12,000 feet down - and the goofy critters that actually thrive in that insanely toxic, unbearably pressurized environment.

Bringing more lighting deeper than it's ever gone before, according to the press notes, ``Volcanoes'' undoubtedly shows us sights no human eyes have previously seen. And they're fascinating as far as they go ... which, unfortunately, is not anywhere as visually (or even biologically) stunning as what the folks who made ``Finding Nemo'' dreamed up.

Instead of the anticipated, bizarre toothfish with glowing eyes on stalks, we see surprisingly dense communities of tubeworms, albino crabs, boil-resistant shrimp and assorted octopuses, mussels and anemones bustling around the vent chimneys and lava floes in the sunless waters. It's quite amazing that anything lives here, let alone in such abundance. Still, we already knew what shrimp and crabs look like.

As if they understood that their groundbreaking footage wasn't quite exciting enough to fill out 43 minutes of running time, Low and company pad the piece with footage from other, obviously much shallower voyages and computer graphics.

There's also a narrative of sorts: paleontologist Dolf Seilacher shows us some million-year-old fossils carved out of sea cliffs in Spain, then joins the underwater expedition in search of fresh examples of the hexagonal imprint made by the same hardy life form at the bottom of the Atlantic's Mid-ocean Range.

To say that these guys are scientists, not storytellers, is the understatement of the year, as the film ends on an anticlimactic note that would stop the evolution of most moviemakers' careers dead in their tracks.

But there's still enough to learn about and look at in ``Volcanoes of the Deep Sea'' to make it a decent way to spend an hour. Ed Harris does the narration and James Cameron, inevitably, executive produced.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

bob.strauss(at)dailynews.com

VOLCANOES OF THE DEEP SEA - Two and one half stars

(Not rated)

Director: Stephen Low.

Running time: 43 min.

Playing: Opens Sunday at California Science Center IMAX Theater, Exposition Park, Los Angeles.

In a nutshell: No volcanoes, really, but the deepest footage ever taken of the strange creatures who thrive in the toxic environment of ocean floor hydrothermal vents. Not much else to this IMAX science special, but that'll be enough for some.

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``Volcanoes of the Deep Sea'' explores the life that thrives in the intense heat and pressure of hydrothermal vents.
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Title Annotation:Review; U
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 12, 2003
Words:465
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