What: "Great White Shark 3D"
When: Noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m. daily, plus 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Where: Tennessee Aquarium's Imax Theater, 201 Chestnut St.
Admission: $9.95 adults, $8.50 children 3-12
Note: Suitable for all audiences; running time of 40 minutes
Also showing: "Flight of the Butterflies" and "Born To Be Wild."
Many people associate great white sharks with the 1975 film "Jaws" and its powerful tagline, "Don't go in the water." A new underwater film opening Friday, May 24, at the Tennessee Aquarium's Imax Theater seeks to unravel the myths and mysteries of these fearsome creatures of the deep. "Great White Shark 3D" takes moviegoers on a virtual cave-diving expedition with the predators.
"Our mission is to change people's attitudes toward the great white," says Steve McNicholas, co-director of the film. "Great Whites are not monsters any more than the polar bears or lions that we revere."
Underwater filmmaker D.J. Roller spent more than four years capturing spectacular 3-D footage in the world's great white hotspots: Mexico's Guadalupe Island, off the California coast near Los Angeles, in South Africa and newly discovered shark territory off the southernmost tip of New Zealand.
"This film isn't a scary film," says Roller, producer and director of photography. "It's really about making the screen disappear as if you were looking through a dive mask. We were determined to bring audiences something truly groundbreaking in a shark film. People will find it thrilling."
Using revolutionary high-speed, digital Imax cameras in South Africa, Roller captured, for the first time in 3-D, great whites leaping into the air. The film team towed a decoy black rubber sea lion in shark-infested waters to entice 20-foot great whites to strike.
"Then all of a sudden, a 3,000- or 4,000-pound creature comes rocketing out of the water like a missile," says Roller. "Even though we filmed several of those events over a few days, it was exciting every time. People will love seeing that in 3-D on a giant screen."
A special shark cage was built so that Roller could film great whites eyeball to eyeball. The design was modeled after the shark cage that's on display at the Tennessee Aquarium. It was designed by filmmaker Peter Gimbel to be used as an "underwater elevator" for "Blue Water, White Death," the first underwater documentary about great white sharks.
"The cage we used to film 'Great White Shark 3D' is very much like the one people can climb in at the Aquarium," says Roller. "It has buoyancy chambers so we could drive it up and down in the water column. People who step into the Aquarium's cage have a good sense of what we used."
Filmmakers have partnered with international conservation organizations Oceana and WildAid to educate viewers about the plight of sharks.
"There's a whole generation that hasn't seen 'Jaws,' so there's a real opportunity to help people understand that protecting sharks is part and parcel of protecting our ocean," says Roller. "I hope people will enjoy the sensations of being in the water with these amazing animals and leave the theater knowing that sharks deserve our respect and protection."