The new 3D documentary Mysteries of the Unseen World certainly lives up to its title. This large format film directed by Louis Schwartzberg (Wings of Life) provides a near trippy experience in its depiction of scenes from nature that are too slow, too fast or too small to be observed by the naked eye. More thematically ambitious and less saccharine than the usual big screen nature docs that constitute the primary fare at museum venues, the film is educational enough to please adults while providing the “wow” factor necessary to impress youngsters.
The filmmaker uses a variety of techniques to capture such startling sights as a rattlesnake striking, a massive owl flexing its wings, a Jesus lizard running on water, and lightning ascending from the ground as well as descending from the sky. We’re given a taste of what it would be like to have X-ray and infrared vision, as well as the illuminating effects of Gamma rays, microwaves and radio waves.
Schwartzberg, an expert in time-lapse photography, here uses the technique to superb effect, depicting slime spreading in its search for food (Yuck!) and plants creeping toward the sun. High-speed cameras use the opposite approach to display such things as popcorn popping and a dragonfly manipulating its wings in various directions.
We’re also given supremely close-up views of the tiny structures on a butterfly’s wing and, more grossly, the tiny organisms that thrive on the human body. Suffice it to say that after viewing the latter, audience members may feel the need to rush home and scrub themselves thoroughly.
Narrated in suitably awestruck tones by Forest Whitaker, the film cheats a little bit in its final section, using computer animation to depict the atom-scale realm of nanotechnology. But considering the genuinely innovate photography previously displayed, it’s a small quibble.
The film is being shown in both 2D and 3D versions, but this is one nature documentary that definitely benefits from being seen in the latter format.
Opens Jan. 10 (National Geographic Entertainment)
Production: Day’s End Pictures
Narrator: Forest Whitaker
Director: Louie Schwartzberg
Screenwriter: Mose Richards
Producers: Lisa Truitt, Jini Durr
Executive producers: Jake Eberts, Leena Gundapaneni
Director of photography: Sean MacLeod Phillips
Editor: Jonathan P. Shaw
Production designer: Steven Suchman
Composer: Paul Haslinger
Not rated, 40 min.