Posted Online: March 17, 2004, 11:00 pm

`Coral' great underwater adventure

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By Jeff Dick, Staff writer

`Coral Reef Adventure' will open Saturday at the Putnam Museum IMAX Theatre, 1717 W. 12th St., Davenport.

There is no sign of the title character from ``Finding Nemo'' in the Putnam Museum IMAX Theatre's latest film, ``Coral Reef Adventure,'' but the multihued crystal-clear undersea habitat looks invitingly familiar.

Produced by the filmmaking team responsible for the magnificent ``Everest,'' ``Coral'' took 10 months to shoot and was released in February 2003. It will open Saturday at the Putnam in Davenport.

``Coral Reef Adventure'' was voted ``Best IMAX Theater Film of 2003'' by members of the Giant Screen Theater Association, and it took in a record $24.6 million worldwide ($21.1 million in the United States) last year.

With the socially conscious song ``Teach Your Children'' by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young playing during the opening credits, the documentary signals its intentions from the outset. Not just a lovely large-format travelogue, this film carries a message -- a cautionary tale about threatened ecology.

Because of a mere two degrees of ocean warming, along with overfishing and coastal logging, the coral reef off the coast of Fiji is dying. Unlike Australia's vibrantly colored Great Barrier Reef, the endangered reef appears ashen.

A Fijian scientist exploring the decaying reef brings the situation to the attention of a husband-and-wife diving and photography team, who set out to spotlight the phenomenon.

Narration by Liam Neeson makes the scientific case for preserving coral reefs by pointing out the reefs’ role as a medical resource, providing chemical compounds used in antibiotics and antihistamines.

First and foremost, though, coral reefs are an amazingly complex ecosystem of interdependent species where one-quarter of all marine life resides. And when a reef dies, so do millions of living things.

``Coral reefs are the canary in the coal mine, and the canary is sick and dying,'' says Jean-Michel Costeau, son of the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.

Despite the film's ecological point of view, which is more persuasive than most essays or editorials, the approach doesn't get mired in preachiness.

It's well-balanced by the playful tone of scenes with sound effects putting a humorous spin on quirky marine behavior, such as tiny fish scrubbing the teeth of a large potato cod.

Although ``Coral'' was shot in 2-D, the use of wide-angle, deep-focus lenses lends a three-dimensional quality and awesome image clarity -- making the IMAX screen seem like the window to a spectacular aquarium.

``We don't inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children,'' says the Kenyan proverb displayed at the end -- an admirable sentiment ``Coral'' carries to its last lovely frame.

For admission prices and showtimes, call the Putnam Museum IMAX Theatre at (563) 324-1054 or log onto www.putnam.org.