PG MagazinePG delivery
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Home Page
PG News: Nation and World, Region and State, Neighborhoods, Business, Sports, Health and Science, Magazine, Forum
Sports: Headlines, Steelers, Pirates, Penguins, Collegiate, Scholastic
Lifestyle: Columnists, Food, Homes, Restaurants, Gardening, Travel, SEEN, Consumer, Pets
Arts and Entertainment: Movies, TV, Music, Books, Crossword, Lottery
Photo Journal: Post-Gazette photos
AP Wire: News and sports from the Associated Press
Business: Business: Business and Technology News, Personal Business, Consumer, Interact, Stock Quotes, PG Benchmarks, PG on Wheels
Classifieds: Jobs, Real Estate, Automotive, Celebrations and other Post-Gazette Classifieds
Web Extras: Marketplace, Bridal, Headlines by Email, Postcards
Weather: AccuWeather Forecast, Conditions, National Weather, Almanac
Health & Science: Health, Science and Environment
Search: Search by keyword or date
PG Store: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette merchandise
PG Delivery: Home Delivery, Back Copies, Mail Subscriptions
Headlines Region & State Neighborhoods Business
Sports Health & Science Magazine Forum
'Journey Into Amazing Caves'

Gorgeous settings present dangers and challenges in Omnimax film

Friday, April 06, 2001

By Ken Chiacchia

One thing you won't see in "Journey into Amazing Caves" is co-star Hazel Barton's tattoo. The microbiologist and cave cartographer used a strategically placed armband to hide the map of Wind Cave, South Dakota, that winds around her left arm.

'Journey Into Amazing Caves'

WHEN: Opens tomorrow at the Carnegie Science Center and runs through Aug. 3.

INFORMATION: 412-237-3400.


The reasons why say much about Barton, cavers and why the Carnegie Science Center's new IMAX film is such an accurate portrayal of caves and caving.

"Nobody [in the caving community] really truly wanted the movie to be made, but it was going to be made any way," Barton admitted. The cavers of the National Speleological Society -- which Barton serves as a director -- were very much afraid that a spectacular portrayal of caving would encourage untrained people to venture below ground, risking both human lives and fragile cave environments. Even her tattoo, she felt, might give too gonzo a message.

"It's not an extreme sport, it's an extreme environment," she said. "This is not a Mountain Dew commercial."

Barton and her fellow cavers decided that the only way to get the right message into the film -- that caves represent a treasure-trove of knowledge and beauty that warrants conservation -- was to help the producers, MacGillivray Freeman Films, do it right.

The producers enthusiastically accepted their help, even going as far as training cavers to operate the IMAX cameras. Barton humbly reminds viewers not to overestimate her abilities as a caver just because she was on the glamour side of the lens: "No matter what you see me doing, the camera guy is doing it with this huge camera."

Last week, Barton spoke before nearly 300 local caving enthusiasts at a sneak preview of the film. The demanding audience left enthusiastic about the film and its message.

As stunning as "Journey into Amazing Caves" is -- IMAX moviegoers used to the high-impact vistas afforded by the format won't be disappointed -- it never strays far from the message of cave conservation and cave science.

Barton's professional specialty, extremophile microorganisms -- literally, microbes that thrive in environments once thought too harsh for anything to survive -- is a centerpiece of the plot. Barton and co-star Nancy Aulenbach, another veteran caver from the NSS, visit three truly extreme cave environments to sample the microbes that live there: a red rock cave in the burning Arizona desert, an underwater cave in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula and an imposing ice cave in Greenland.

Of the three segments, the Arizona shots provide the most dramatic footage, largely due to the 500-foot rope descent necessary to reach the cave mouth. The IMAX format gives a real sense of what climbers and cavers call "exposure" -- when one's rear end is, truly, hanging out over a vast expanse of nothing. The ice cave footage is perhaps the most beautiful, because of the blue light filtering hundreds of feet through solid ice.

The cave diving was a particularly white-knuckle segment, and the film indeed shows how dangerous this sport can be, even with specialized training. To underscore this point, Aulenbach explains her promise to her family never even to try cave diving -- and so doesn't accompany that part of the expedition.

If there is a weakness to "Journey into Amazing Caves," it is that it underrepresents crawls and squeezes -- the self-explanatory scramblings cavers must perform to explore tight cave passages. As Barton told the cavers, it was no small feat to get the 65-pound IMAX cameras "in cave," a problem that favored filming in large caves. Besides, it's a somewhat unfair criticism -- the whole point of the IMAX format is to show broad expanses of space.

The Pittsburgh-area cavers who attended the preview weren't inclined to pick nits.

"This is not like anything I've ever done," said Paula Grgich, program chairwoman for the Pittsburgh Grotto -- the local chapter of the NSS -- after the film. "But hopefully it's something I'll get a chance to do." While our local caves aren't as spectacular as the ones in the film, they're every bit as unique, interesting and worthy of protection, she added.

Just as the national caving community worked to make the film as real as possible, the NSS grottos in the region are pitching in as well. Grotto members will man a kiosk at the Carnegie Science Center every Saturday that the film runs, displaying caving equipment, answering questions and giving people who'd like to try caving the opportunity to do it right -- and safely. It's a local involvement that Carnegie staff members say is unprecedented.

"They're passionate about their sport," said Carnegie spokeswoman Kelly Chapman.

Barton agrees: Caving is a way of life. After all -- laser surgery notwithstanding -- tattoos are permanent.

Ken Chiacchia is a free-lance writer.

bottom navigation bar Terms of Use  Privacy Policy