IMAX 'Discoverers' film interactive on CD-ROM

March 08, 1994|By James Coates | James Coates,Chicago Tribune

A California company called Knowledge Adventure Inc. has done a strange and wonderful thing with the IMAX movie called "The Discoverers," now playing on a five-story-high screen at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.

They have reduced the movie from the giant screen at the Omnimax Theater to a 4.5-inch-by-5.5-inch screen on your computer monitor. In the process, they have made the big-screen movie even bigger.

Of course, anybody who ever has had the pleasure of watching an IMAX movie (and who hasn't?) knows that nothing can compare to the incredible close-up-and-personal feeling of the humongous screen.

What Knowledge Adventure has done to make the experience better, and, for my money, bigger, is take that entire movie and put it on CD-ROM and make it interactive.

As you watch the movie on CD-ROM, you can pause it at any frame and move your mouse cursor and watch little balloons pop up to offer to take you to other areas.

These areas tell you more about the issues of art and science and life and exploration, etc., that are being raised by the film at the point you paused the film.

Suddenly the movie is much bigger than a five-story movie screen. It is as big as your imagination.

The authors have seized upon one of the computer's most potent powers in dealing with information, the "hot link" or hypertext technique.

The idea is that clicking on one word or one picture or whatever jumps the user to other places with related information. This can be more pictures, other articles, charts, graphs, musical performances, etc.

There is an amazing storehouse of material for hot links in this sweeping film about the great explorers of past and present.

The CD-ROM title is based on Daniel J. Boorstin's highly acclaimed book "The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself," first published in 1983.

Like the IMAX movie, the CD-ROM is an adaptation of a heavy-duty piece of adult scholarship for an audience as young as 6 and 8 years old as an educational tool. But the power of interactive computing captivates adults as well as kids.

Mr. Boorstin is a legend in scholarly circles, and his works have sold well to mass audiences as well as to historians. He followed 25 years on the history faculty at the University of Chicago by nearly a decade as Librarian of Congress in Washington.

The CD-ROM version touches on many of the explorers that are dealt with at length in the book, but adds multimedia show-and-tell.

For example, Mr. Boorstin's treatment of Sir Isaac Newton and his study of light and color is accompanied by numerous film clips, sound bites and animations showing aspects of the visible spectrum and how prisms work.

And each historical explorer is linked to a modern-day scientific pursuit. Thus Newton is matched with scientists in the Arctic Circle studying the aurora borealis, the beautiful northern lights released when the Earth's magnetic field suddenly releases electrons sent from solar flares.

Most of the words and pictures in the various digressions from the main movie are hot-linked to other topics on the disk, and thus everybody's experience in browsing its contents will be different.

The title sells for $79.95 suggested retail and is in IBM compatible format with a Macintosh version due in late summer.

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