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To the Arctic: Weeping glaciers, playful bears and Sir Paul

A nursing ursine scene from the documentary "To The Arctic"

Shaun MacGillivray/Warner Bros.

2 out of 4 stars


Acclaimed large-format documentary filmmaker Greg MacGillivray knows more than a thing or two about braving the elements. He led the team that made the chilling box-office hit Everest. And the lifelong surfer has made several fine Imax films about the briny wilderness ( The Living Sea, Dolphins etc.).

MacGillivray and his specialized crew take Imax cameras to the far north for the first time, exploring ice and ocean in To the Arctic 3D, an urgent, if decidedly institutional, big-screen look at the majestic landscape and its inhabitants, whose continued existence is threatened by rapid climate change in the region.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, we are told by Meryl Streep's dulcet voice as we fly past a gigantic iceberg spouting many spectacular waterfalls. A children's choir sings and a graphic of the movie title explodes into ice shards to heighten the dramatic impact. Corny? You bet, but that's nothing compared to the poignant – and to this viewer, distracting – Paul McCartney songs just around the next iceberg.

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The technical challenge of shooting an Imax documentary in extreme outdoor conditions requires lengthy and detailed prep – but surprises in the field can change the game plan. In the case of Everest, the production was one of several expeditions on the mountain in 1996 during the "rogue storm" that claimed several lives and became the subject of Jon Krakauer's bestselling book Into Thin Air.

A much happier accident happened during To the Arctic 3D. After seven trips made over four years, the production was about to wrap when the crew, aboard an icebreaker, encountered a polar bear mom and twin cubs that decided to hang around for a week – offering a rare opportunity to film the daily life of these notoriously camera-shy creatures.

The 2007 documentary Arctic Tale effectively used a composite technique to tell a feature-length story about the life cycle of a polar bear and walrus mom and their offspring. While MacGillivray's 40-minute Imax film lacks that kind of narrative focus, it hooks viewers by weaving in the actual filmmaking process – scenes of curious polar bears destroying camera "disguises" (fake snowballs etc.) and an underwater cameraman who swims with walruses are particularly captivating.

To the Arctic 3D kicks off a multiplatform education and conservation campaign that is an extension of the MacGillivray's new non-profit charitable foundation One World One Ocean. The giant screen seems like just the right place to show landlubbers why they should care more deeply about the world's oceans.

To the Arctic 3D opens in Imax theatres in Edmonton, Ottawa, Quebec City, Regina, Toronto and Winnipeg on April 20, in Montreal on May 11 and in Victoria on June 8.

Special to The Globe and Mail

To the Arctic 3D

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  • Directed by Greg MacGillivray
  • Written by Stephen Judson
  • Narrated by Meryl Streep
  • Classification: G
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