Take the cultural exposure of National Geographic and the idealized imagery of picture postcards, splice them to the larger-than-life IMAX film process and you have "Dance of Life," a new "After Hours at IMAX" film premiering this weekend at the Maryland Science Center.
The subject is Indonesia, the world's fifth most populous nation, comprising some 13,000 islands across 3,000 miles of ocean along the equator southeast of Asia. Bali, Java, Sumatra, Sumba and Irianjaya are some of the bits of land -- "magic words, magic places," in the film's narration.
At the least, "Dance of Life" will make you want to visit, for the 26-minute running time affords too-quick glimpses of breathtaking scenery, surprising urbanity (in the capital city of Jakarta) and a range of ancient cultural rituals.
The film replaces "The Great Barrier Reef" in the double-feature "After Hours at IMAX" weekend screenings, joining "Chronos," a visual survey of Western civilization. For a flat admission of $5, viewers can see both films in a 7:30 p.m. show time on Fridays and Saturdays. (The daytime IMAX feature continues to be "Blue Planet," an environmentally sensitive view of Earth from space. For information, call 837-IMAX.)
"Dance of Life" was made by MacGillivray Freeman Films, the production team responsible for the memorable early IMAX film "To Fly" and the more recent "To the Limit," which played the Science Center last year. Commissioned by an Indonesian cultural committee, the film premiered in 1984 at an IMAX theater in Jakarta and was seen by more than 1 million viewers there in its first seven months.
A rather hyperbolic narration attempts to project a common cultural theme -- the influences of fire and water -- as expressed in a variety of native and other dance forms. But this is not very persuasive, especially because it makes the point Indonesia is the most ethnically diverse country in the world.
Happily, the script is not tremendously important to enjoying "Dance of Life," for what is worth seeing are the lush scenes of this fascinating corner of the world.
Here they are presented with most of the hallmark big-screen IMAX techniques: aerial plunges off precipices, accelerated trips through traffic, split-screen imagery and dreamily intimate participatory shots. The viewer is briefly aboard an outrigger canoe, in the driver's seat of a bull-racing cart and hanging just above a surfer shooting the curl of a big comber.
The islands' volcanic geography and jungle greenery seemingly struggle for dominance, and the indigenous fauna ranges from brightly colored birds to the ancient Komodo dragons. A culturally authentic music score provides a nice background.
"Dance of Life" will play for four months at the Science Center.
THE MITCHUM MYSTIQUE -- He's perceived by movie fans as a pretty tough guy, even sinister at times. Actress Ali McGraw is correct when she says, "there's tremendous danger in Bob's face."
But actor Robert Mitchum doesn't seem too impressed with himself, in a fascinating profile documentary on cable this weekend. When unhappiness in a factory job left him psychosomatically blind, the actor says disdainfully at one point, "I became a movie actress instead."
The latest edition of the Cinemax premium network's excellent "Crazy About the Movies" series, premiering at 8 p.m. tomorrow, is aptly subtitled "The Reluctant Star." For although co-stars and directors praise Mitchum's cool professionalism, in several interview segments he says there's nothing to brag about in his craft.
"There can't be too much of a trick to it," he reflects, perhaps humorously, after noting that his favorite actor in the movies was Rin Tin Tin.
Then again, Mitchum's early life before finding a Hollywood niche makes acting seem pretty soft. And it seems clear the strong screen presence he has brought to almost 100 films spanning about 50 years stems from his rough adolescence.
Born in 1916 in Bridgeport, Conn., his father died when Mitchum was 2 and his newspaper-woman mother could not support him and his brother. They went to live with relatives, but at 12 Mitchum hit the railroads, roaming the country until, at 15, he was arrested as a vagrant in Georgia and sentenced to a chain gang.
He says he saw no future in that, so escaped and worked at a succession of jobs from digging ditches to selling shoes. He and his brother, John, ended up in California because the climate was nice. And there, as a good-looking beach bum, he attracted the attention of movie types who urged him into the studios.
Like all the "Crazy About the Movies" shows, this one is full of clips from the subject's more memorable films, including "The Story of G.I. Joe" (in which one scene was actually his powerful screen test for the role), "Thunder Road," "The Night of the Hunter," "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," "Ryan's Daughter" and "Farewell My Lovely."