Dolphins and Whales 3D: Tribes of the Ocean

Narrated by Daryl Hannah. Rated G. Opens Friday, March 7, at the IMAX Theatre at Canada Place

“Dolphins are always good; they’re never bad.” That is my all-time favourite overheard audience line. It was uttered by a grade-schooler, to no one in particular, as the lights went down for the movie version of Flipper.

Twelve years have passed since then, and in that time, little has been done to improve the situation of endangered sea mammals we so love to romanticize. In this decade alone, the so-called leaders of the free world have spent approximately three trillion dollars to maim and murder perhaps a half-million human beings—Americans and foreigners—for mostly imaginary reasons, while multiplying pollution in every possible sphere. Cetaceans should probably be glad that Dick Cheney doesn’t care about them.

IMAX does, demonstrably, and you could say that as the environment’s fortunes have deteriorated, giant-screen filmmakers have prospered—not due to any exploitational impulse, but because there’s such a powerful need to document exotic creatures and habitats before they vanish. As strongly as IMAX films lobby for preservation of the imperilled, there’s a whiff of the done deal to movies like Dolphins and Whales 3D.

Subtitled Tribes of the Ocean, this 42-minute movie is “presented” by Jean-Michel Cousteau, a son of the great marine specialist, although it was made by Jean-Jacques and Elisabeth Mantello, the couple behind Sharks 3D and Ocean Wonderland. Like those titles, it is shot almost entirely underwater, in a variety of murky contexts. Here, there is no attempt to assign any narrative structure to a didactic effort that moves, species by species, through the so-called tribes, with passing comments on potential futures for humpbacks, right whales, bottle-nosed dolphins, and, among others, our own beloved orcas.

The images are elegant, given the grace of the creatures under barnacle-close examination. But the general lack of reeds, coral outcroppings, and other animals (not counting breakfast) makes the 3-D effect rather, well, less dimensional. And Daryl Hannah’s breathy, word-dropping narration, combined with pleasant synth music and languid footage, makes Dolphins notably soporific (if still worthy) viewing. When the little boy said that they are always good, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about this movie.