Stormchasers

on October 01, 1995 by Ann Kwinn
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   The new IMAX movie, "Stormchasers," explores different types of storms, a subject of more immediate and everyday interest to moviegoers than previous large-screen efforts. Aside from Mother Nature herself, the characters here are researchers who follow storms--sometimes traveling hundreds of miles in a day--to collect information for scientific and practical use.
   The movie, made for the Museum Film Network and for NOVA/WGBH Boston, likewise balances education and excitement. This is shown in its best scene, which takes place inside a small plane heading into the eye of a hurricane. Though it might sound like science fiction, meteorologist Dr. Robert Sheets, the former director of the National Hurricane Center who correctly predicted Hurricane Andrew in 1992, sends teams into the center of these turbulent storms to determine their locations, predict their paths and create public evacuation plans.
   Complicated topics are well explained and illustrated with computer animation. But the filmmakers were probably disappointed by the paucity of storm and destruction that actually crossed their lenses. They did capture a tornado in (where else?) Kansas, but it swirled past a farm, rather than uprooting it and taking it to Munchkinland. The film crew also arrived after a trailer park had been leveled and so got footage not of the storm but of a young woman in a body brace describing getting tossed about like a rag doll and watching a cow fly through the air. Given that the storm was fated to happen anyway, it's too bad this nursery rhyme wasn't captured on film.
   Some of the best footage was acquired video arranged on five monitors to fill the large IMAX screen. Shots include a house losing its roof and a rain-suited reporter giving a newcast on location during a storm. Also interesting are accompanying archival photos with narration describing the worst natural disaster in American history: a September 1900 hurricane that killed 6,000 residents of Galveston, Texas and destroyed 3,600 homes with a 20-foot wave and 120 mph winds. The National Weather Service's rating of this storm--four on the five-point Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Intensity Scale, which assesses resulting damage makes a rating of five seem, again, like science fiction.
   "Stormchasers" appears to be technically superior to many other IMAX movies. It has very wide angles and considerable synched sound and camera movement. Though not the crossover edutainment the Museum Film Network has been looking for, the movie is interesting and probably could make for a good simulation ride. Directed and produced by Greg MacGillivray. A MacGil-livray Freeman Films release. Documentary. IMAX. Unrated. Running time: 38 min
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