To the Arctic 3D Directed by: Greg MacGillivray Cast: (Voice of) Meryl Streep Running Time: 45 mins Rating: G Release Date: April 20, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: An IMAX documentary that follows around a mother polar bear and her two cubs as they try to survive in our current global warming situation.
WHO'S IT FOR? To the Arctic offers entertainment suitable for young families, along with anyone that can appreciate dedicated cinematography when they see it.
Primarily motivated by its passion for capturing soaring exterior shots of massive glaciers, or up close and personal shots of polar bears, To the Arctic succeeds at reminding you why you'll probably regret not seeing such a landscape with your own eyes. On the other hand, its immersive 3D and huge IMAX presentation makes for a solid alternative to experiencing deadly frost, and campground invasions by rude wildlife.
Though it features a family-friendly polar bear story of survival as its largest plot, this labored documentary is first a bewitched presentation of an impressive terrain, and a cry for help to keep the landscape's beauty as so. It ultimately resigns itself to being "cute," and stays at this level disappointingly when making its thesis statements about why the Arctic must be preserved.
Attempting to fill its small running time with random chapters united under one location, To the Arctic hops quickly between various subjects, with some of them being more compelling than others. This visually-driven documentary does find solid ground when focusing on a mother polar bear trying to provide for her two cubs. The film's narrative is ramped up when a male polar bear starts to pursue the trio, making for a surprisingly, slightly stressful chapter in watching the unpredictability of nature simply play out. The second half of the film does provide To the Arctic its basic requirements: close images of cute polar bear cubs, and a life or death story about survival, both against conditions and rival creatures.
With her calm eloquence, Meryl Streep provides a crystal clear narration to the story of the polar bears, and even how the filmmakers captured such events. More notably distracting to the ears in this experience is the inclusion of songs by Paul McCartney. This random array of tunes aims to complement scenes, but are sometimes an overbearing presence. Though there is a certain pleasure in hearing "Because" (from his Beatles days) in IMAX, the usage of the snooty "Mr. Bellamy" is almost too colorful for a sequence that shows large, sassy walruses (though it does beat the obvious option of "I Am the Walrus.") On the other hand, the often-played "I'm Carrying" has the right simplicity in melody and chord structure to add pretty mysticism to the movie's sweeping exterior shots.
Though its heart and mind are certainly in the right place, this documentary provides a narrow expression as to the real importance of saving the Arctic. This film reasons with audience members more on the lighter factors — "Think of the polar bears!" — than something that really hits the homes of human beings paying to look at visuals of such a land. And even after making its pitch about the situation in the Arctic, audience members are only provided briefly with a list in the credits that informs all as to how they can help prevent the Arctic from losing its icy terrain.
In an age of movies hardly worthy of an IMAX screen (a genuine IMAX screen, mind you) or the "bonus" of being in 3D, To the Arctic is a rare movie that provides a thoroughly 3D IMAX experience. Each frame is enhanced by the "bonus" of seeing the visuals in 3D, and the general image isn't even darkened in the process (which is a common problem with 3D images).
FINAL SCORE: 6/10