by Sheri Boggs

Size matters. Especially when it comes to the five big movies slated to show at this week's IMAX Film Festival. Would a hammerhead shark be as impressive on a dinky little 26-inch TV screen? Would a lava-spouting volcano induce as many ooohs and aaaahs at your local Cineplex? Of course not. For maximum thrill-ride entertainment, some films need -- nay, insist upon -- all five stories and the Dolby Surroundsound of your local IMAX.

Which is where, this Friday, you'll find Island of the Sharks. Sure, you might be thinking "Island of the Sharks" is a cute nickname for where you work, but in this case it refers to Cocos Island, an uninhabited rainforest island 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica and reputedly the site of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. If it's gory and/or violent food-chain action you're after, Island of the Sharks won't disappoint. In addition to all the hammerhead, white tip reef and black tip sharks patrolling the waters, you'll also see marlins decimate and devour entire schools of fish as well as meet the mantis shrimp and its sickle claw of sudden, skewering death. It's not all "eat or be eaten" off the shores of Cocos Island, and Island of the Sharks also offers an unparalleled view of an incredibly biologically diverse region.

Forces of Nature taps into our human fascination with that which is completely out of our control -- namely, Extreme Weather. Kevin Bacon is your host on this National Geographic jaunt into the path of tornadoes, the violent unpredictability of volcanoes and the devastation of earthquakes. While teams of scientists try to unravel the secret clues that indicate when disaster will strike, the National Geographic filmmakers are hot on the pursuit of monster tornadoes from Texas to North Dakota, in one instance, coming within 400 feet of being swept up in an F-3 twister. The Soufriere Hills Volcano eruption in Monserrat provides all the molten lava and pyrotechnics any armchair vulcanologist could ask for, while the devastation wrought by the 1999 earthquake near Izmit, Turkey, is a sobering view of how nature still often has the upper hand.

Imagine how deep you could go in the ocean on only one breath of air. Could you go 20 feet? Forty? Lucky to hit 10 feet without panicking and returning to the surface? Imagine diving 480 feet (that's the height of both the Eiffel Tower and the Great Pyramid of Giza) on one, and only one, hit of air. World champion freedivers Umberto Pelizzari and Pipin Ferreras are rivals chasing the same quest -- to continually best one another in astonishing underwater feats of physical and mental courage. OceanMen chronicles their parallel journeys and diving philosophies, set against the backdrop of some of the world's most incredible ocean locales. The film also profiles the history of freediving (which goes back at least as far as 4500 BC) as well as female societies like the Amas in Japan, which supports itself almost entirely through freediving.

If you've ever wanted to borrow someone's large-screen TV with which to better gawk at the physical contortions of Cirque du Soleil, then Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man is for you. Following the "human spirit" from birth through childhood to maturity and the inevitable that awaits us all, Journey of Man includes Taiko drummers, synchronized swimmers, Bungee jumpers and even the "Giant Stork" and flaming "Cube Man."

None of this -- and none of us for that matter --would be possible without our friend, that big flaming ball of gas in the sky known as the Sun. Which is why it deserves its own large format film, SolarMax. Every 11 years or so, the sun switches polarities. When at its height, this period of solar unrest is called "Solar Maximum" and it can fry satellites, mess up cell phones and wreak havoc on all things electromagnetic. SolarMax follows scientists' efforts to understand our powerful, potentially devastating star and how ancient civilizations (notably the Babylonians) were able to make astonishingly accurate predictions on the sun's cycles. As for awe-inspiring footage, look for shots of our sun taken from SOHO (Solar and Helipspheric Observatory), which orbits the sun nearly a million miles closer to it than Earth.

The IMAX Film Festival

runs during evening hours. If you haven't yet seen any of their regular fare, those films are still on the roster as well but at morning and afternoon showtimes.

Publication date: 08/19/04

Spokane Justice for Tyre Nichols @ North Bank Park

Sat., Feb. 4, 3:30-5:15 p.m.
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