FORCES OF NATURE
Starring earthquakes, tornadoes and volcanoes
Directed by George Casey
Discovery Dome (Calgary Science Centre)
Its not hard to understand why people chase storms. Bad weather is much lovelier than good weather.
Although fine for flying kites, a vacant blue sky isnt much to look at. A rolling black rain cloud, on the other hand, though liable to breakup your garden party, is undeniably picturesque. And though I wouldnt particularly want one plowing through my trailer park, I can think of few sights as breathtaking as a tornado projecting its dark fountain of soil and debris into the ion-rich atmosphere, causing a premature twilight to settle across the landscape. Yes, Mother Nature may occasionally be an abusive, temperamental shrew, but shes pretty when shes angry.
Not surprising, then, Forces of Nature, the latest giant-screen educational white-knuckler to play at the Calgary Science Centre, is a frequently beautiful film. The audience is treated to some panoramic footage of a few of the worlds most awesome natural disasters. A raging twister touches down in Tornado Alley. The Soufriere Hills volcano of Montserrat erupts at night, its lightning-like explosions sending churning plumes of ash 10 kilometres high. An earthquake rocks Izmit, Turkey, causing streets to buckle, walls to crumple and roofs to cave in. (This last disaster was, of course, not captured on 70 mm film, but recreated with some shaky camera work and the demolition of a model apartment building, which gets the point across, if somewhat amateurishly.)
But these real-life special effects sequences are unfortunately, if necessarily, few and far between. In between, obligatory educational content is provided by computer-generated plunges into the earths core, voice-over commentary by Professor Kevin Bacon of the Vanity Project Institute and documentary-style tagalongs with three plucky scientists a volcanologist, geophysicist and mesometeorologist as each chase their particular brand of storm. These biographical mini-profiles, while not exactly boring, arent always gripping, either. Through no fault of their own, the scientists just arent as fascinating as their science. They cant compete with the true star of this film the stunning natural forces of the title. Consequently, the giant-screen format sometimes seems underutilized.
At worst, one gets the sense of watching a pretty darn good PBS or Learning Channel program on a ridiculously large television. But at best, one forgets to breathe or blink as the air is rent, the earth shudders and the sky begins to fall.