Ancient Caves (IMAX, 2020, dir. Jonathan Bird)

52-week film challenge, film 15

I’ve been staying out of actual cinemas for a long time due to the pandemic, but with the end of the global emergency (and with the option to mask up if the auditorium gets too crowded), I opted to take in an IMAX movie, as I generally love them and my local IMAX theatre is a museum right by my residence. My choice was Ancient Caves, a film about (mostly) underwater caves and what they can tell us about the most recent Ice Ages … and how man-made climate change may affect the natural cycle of the Earth’s cooling and warming.

As is generally the case with IMAX, the cinematography is stunning, and for once a film shot in 3D utilised that to good effect without getting cheesy about it, a la SCTV’S Doctor Tongue. There’s no brandishing a stalagmite repeatedly straight to the camera here, and indeed I doubt the divers and geologists in the film were even told it was going to be in 3D — but boy does it add depth and presence to spaces such as caves.

And what caves they are! The film starts off with some above-ground and underground (but not underwater) caves and introduces us to Dr. Gina Moseley, who really really loves caves and lowering herself into them on ropes. She serves as the narrator of the journeys into the caves, while Bryan Cranston serves as the narrator of the film overall.

It is of course a documentary, and the real purpose of the film is to use the caves and their stalagmites to study the previous Ice Ages — which happens about every 100,000 years. We’re not due for another one for a good long while (probably), but what happens during an Ice Age is interesting, and the way to get that information involves diving waaaay down into underwater caves to get core samples.

The film dwells a bit on the diving sequences, but the payoff is fantastic — eye-popping vaults of mineral and crystal stalagtites and stalagmites (and in the some of the less-deep caves, skulls and pottery), undisturbed and indeed untouched until this film in some cases for tens of thousands and up to a million years. I felt grateful to be able to witness these astounding scenarios in 3D without having to endure the diving and genuine risks taken to access these locations.

In short, Ancient Caves is educational but very interesting, particularly to anyone with the slightest interest in geology, cave exploring (above or below water), and the information scientists can extract from mineral deposits and such. The film does take a little time to discuss the impact of climate change currently, as it may have an affect on our future environment, and there was a brief but very interesting bit about the impact of human activity on the carbon dioxide count compared to the pre-mankind earth.

The film isn’t, however, focused on this point — it’s more a pure celebration of discovery, and the 3D and the diversity of locations really adds to the impact of the film. It’s playing on the IMAX circuit, so if it comes to your town and you could use a nice little escape from your day-to-day life — or just keep a pre-teen interested for an hour or so — this one might be second only to a dinosaur movie for edu-tainment value, and will definitely add value to your next trip to any local caverns.