on December 31, 1998 by Pat Kramer
   Never before have so many of these elusive mammals been captured on film as in this beautifully documented IMAX presentation "Whales." Co-director and DP Al Giddings ("The Abyss," "The Deep") brings his expertise in underwater photography to this film, creating elegant shots of these large but graceful creatures.
   It's also a film rich in historical and scientific data. Over the course of eight years of research (two devoted to filming), the moviemakers joined the Whale Conservation Institute's research vessel, Odyssey, on whale-sighting trips to Alaska, Newfoundland, California, Patagonia, Hawaii and Columbia. In the process, they were fortunate enough to film several species: humpbacks, rights, orcas (killer whales) and the largest of all, the blue whales.
   The footage is quite amazing: whales breaching the water with their monstrous tails, hunting in groups (they assemble in a circle to trap fish), swimming in their deep-water habitats, and migrating to Alaska from Hawaii (where a female humpback teaches her newborn calf survival skills). Despite the presence of cameras, the whales are documented with as little human interference as possible. And, although it's difficult to gauge exactly how large these creatures are without a point of comparison, they appear graceful and weightless in their acrobatic leaps into the air, balancing their tails in a handstand as they ride the wind.
   The mournful "songs" of the whales are also recorded, even if it's hard to say whether the sounds they make are actual "songs." The "singing" can be heard as the whales hunt, interact with mates, challenge competition and navigate on their annual migrations. To generate their footage, the filmmakers had to camp out on boats and wait for whales to appear; with the revealing "Whales," their patience has paid off. Narrated by Patrick Stewart. Directed by David Clark, Al Giddings and Dr. Roger Payne. Written by Dr. Roger Payne, Mose Richards and Dr. Leighton Taylor. Produced by Christopher Palmer and David Clark. A National Wildlife Federation/Destination Cinema/Zephyr production. Documentary. Unrated. Running time: 44 min.
   Format: IMAX.
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