Tuesday, June 03, 2008

IMAX film "Forces of Nature": volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes


The Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Institution at Dulles Airport, VA offers the National Geographic / Destination IMAX film “Natural Disasters: Forces of Nature,” a 40 minute short in full IMAX (without 3D), directed by George Casey and narrated by Kevin Bacon. It should not be confused with the 1999 comedy “Forces of Nature” with Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock.

The film covers three kinds of disasters: earthquakes, volcanoes, and tornadoes.

The middle part of the film is the most important because it warns of an immediate peril. It traces an earthquake fault along northern Turkey, following the Black Sea (subject of a recent History Channel film), and showed that the zone of stress was pushing westward. The film showed spectacular shots of the 1999 leveling of many tenements in Izmit, Turkey, and warns that the greatest instability now lies ten miles south of Istanbul (Constantinople), and that a major earthquake affecting Istanbul can happen now at any time. It showed the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and traced the multitude of repairs in the past. Mosques and cathedrals have always withstood the earthquakes, but housing did not.

The first part of the film covered the 1995 and continuous eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano near the town of Plymouth on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. It would be surprising to find a volcano there, since it is in a mountainous group more or less contiguous with eastern Appalachians (all the way to the Brazilian Highlands). The film showed the explosive eruption and pumice clouds towering and filling the screen, much like Mount St. Helens in Washington (which I visited in 1990; I also hiked down some of Haleakala crater on Maui in 1980). The barren terrain and colors of the hardened lava rivers were stunning.

The last part of the film showed the development of a tornado in Oklahoma in progress, and then showed a huge wedge tornado, and a perspective that showed the full size of the thunderstorm.

Photography is not allowed in movie theaters, including Imax; otherwise I could show what the volcano looked like up close, or the tornado. I’ve wondered why stills aren’t “fair use” but my understanding is that even still photos from theatrical presentations are never allowed. So the picture here is a quiet one from a wild life refuge near Ocoquan, VA (which I took in person when present there myself).

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