Journey to the South Pacific: Film Review

A breathtakingly immersive travelogue that packs a persuasive environmental undercurrent.  

An intoxicating Imax 3D excursion beneath the pristine waters of the West Papuan archipelago.

You won’t be treated to any rousing choruses of "Some Enchanted Evening" in Journey to the South Pacific, but this equally exotic Imax entry proves enchanting in its own right. 

Charting a course for the islands along the West Papua, Indonesia, archipelago, this 40-minute giant-screen 3D excursion takes full advantage of the expansive format to immerse the viewer in the vibrant seascape, while making an impassioned statement for the conversation of the region’s rich island culture. The first film to be released under a multi-picture pact between Imax and MacGillivray Freeman Films, Journey to the South Pacific began its rollout in select Imax theaters on Nov. 27.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: 'Journey to the South Pacific': Cate Blanchett Explores Sea Life

For veteran large-format director Greg MacGillivray, who has 37 giant-screen productions on his resume, including the Oscar-nominated The Living Sea and Dolphins, the marine setting represents a personal passion.

Here, sharing directing credit with Stephen Judson, who also serves as the film’s writer and editor, MacGillivray makes a convincing case for ocean preservation: A group of Indonesian island kids are about to embark on a two-month excursion aboard the Kalabia, a floating classroom that will give them a hands-on education about their one-of-a-kind coral reef.

Home to an estimated 2,000 species of marine life, including the endangered giant leatherback turtle, the undersea environment is captured with the format’s typically vibrant and gorgeously detailed camerawork (by director of underwater photography Howard Hall), while above sea level, the region’s pristine, sun-kissed vistas similarly pop, courtesy of director of photography Brad Ohlund’s fly-on-the-wall camerawork.

Working in tandem, the visuals bring the audience right alongside those swaying manta rays, or, in one of the film’s most stirring sequences, in breathtakingly close proximity as Jawi, a 13-year-old student, goes for a lyrical swim right next to a 40-foot-long spotted whale shark.

And although there’s no Rodgers and Hammerstein on the soundtrack, the ukulele-backed folk songs of the locals and narrator Cate Blanchett’s comforting tones add a fitting serenity to the proceedings.

Most inspiring are the steps taken toward environmental protection, with locals successfully correcting the once seemingly irreversible practices of overfishing and polluting that were threatening to decimate that wondrous aquatic world. By the time 40 minutes are up, you’re left with the impression that young Jawi and his fellow students will make good on their promise as the conservators of their South Pacific ocean paradise.

Production: Imax Entertainment, MacGillivray Freeman Films

Narrator: Cate Blanchett

Directors: Greg MacGillivray, Stephen Judson

Screenwriter: Stephen Judson

Producers: Shaun MacGillivray, Mark Krenzien

Executive producers: Greg Foster, Harrison Smith, Chris Palmer

Director of photography: Brad Ohlund

Music: Steve Wood

Editor: Stephen Judson

Rated G, 40 minutes