on July 25, 2003 by Sheri Linden
Providing more proof that the Imax format is at the forefront of educational entertainment as well as technological advances in filmmaking, "Bugs!" is an up-close-and-personal look at the planet's dominant life form. Subtitled "A Rainforest Adventure," the large-format 3-D film focuses on the life-cycles of diametric opposites: the caterpillar, a constantly nibbling vegetarian whose soft body grows at an alarming rate, and the exoskeletal praying mantis, a carnivorous predator with an otherworldly triangular face. But there are astounding glimpses of other insects too, magnified as much as 250,000 times.

Using a newly contrived optical system, the intrepid filmmakers shot for six weeks in Borneo, but the location is not specified in the film's playfully informative narration, delivered by Judi Dench. The docu is meant to represent rainforests in general--which comprise two percent of the earth's surface but contain most of its species. A reassembled abandoned shack served as the set for the insect actors, a controlled environment in the natural, vine-strewn setting. It was re-created on a U.K. soundstage, with some of the creepy-crawly stars accruing frequent flyer miles in order to shoot more scenes before returning home.

In extreme close-up, many of the bugs look like science fiction creations. The caterpillar is first seen emerging from a protein-rich egg case that looks like the inspiration for the pods in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Two male rhino beetles wrestle over a female like gladiators in Darth Vader armor. We get a centipede's-eye view of a leaf and see a variety of ingenious camouflage devices. A weevil feasts on a rotten banana, an ant imbibes from a drop of rain, and aphids enjoy rosebud juice. The most impressive sequences involve the two main characters: the birth of 200 baby mantids and the astounding real-time emergence from its cocoon of the former caterpillar, in all its winged glory. The 3-D effect is terrific throughout, and the surround-sound design heightens the sense of being immersed in a lush tropical environment. Narrated by Judi Dench. Directed by Mike Slee. Written by Mike Slee and Abby Aron. Produced by Phil Streather and Alexandra Ferguson. An SK Films release. Large-Format/3-D documentary. Unrated. Running time: 40 min

Tags: IMAX, 3D, bugs, educational, documentary, Judi Dench, rainforest, insects, life, Mike Slee

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