As a systematic ichthyologist (a scientist who explores the diversity and classification of fishes) for the Smithsonian Institution, Carole Baldwin has grown accustomed to her share of "swimming with the fishes." But when she starred in the IMAX-3D film Galapagos, on land and under the waters of that nineteen-island chain off Ecuador, explored by Charles Darwin in 1835, she almost learned the meaning of the phrase in the deadly Mafia-movie sense, courtesy of several menacing moray eels and huge hammerhead sharks.
"There were so many of them," laughs Baldwin nervously, responding not to a question about the quantity of creatures but recounting her scariest moment during filming. Recommended to the movie's producers by a colleague, Baldwin was excited at the prospect of studying deep-sea fishes via dives in a bubble-like submersible. (Before that she had only been able to work with preserved museum material.) "I was just dying for a chance to get in a sub and see some of these things alive and in their natural habitat," Baldwin recalls. Of course she did that knowing full well the sub would plunge 3000 feet, and if any mishap occurred, such as a crack in the sphere, the tremendous pressure at that depth would instantly crush her. All part of the job, which allowed her to discover a dozen new species of fishes.
In the two years it took to make the film (fourteen weeks of which were spent in the Galapagos), there were many other frightening times, such as rappelling backwards into a cave when she had only rappelled once or twice off the top of the ship on which she was based. "I actually liked it! Have you ever done any rope work like that?" she asks breathlessly. Uh ... no. "Once you get over the edge, that vertical drop is really fun because you can control how fast or slow you want to go." Right, we'll take your word for it.
Added obstacles to movie making came from the gigantic cameras themselves. The special IMAX-3D models weigh more than 250 pounds and had to be hauled around rocky terrain by hand. Placed in underwater housing, the camera weight increased to about 2000 pounds. A cinch. Baldwin surely thanked her lucky stars she was making a movie and not doing live theater because one scene -- the creepy encounter with the bloodthirsty eels -- required a multitude of takes. "When I would swim into the scene, I was just supposed to look over at these eels with a flashlight and then move on," she explains. "But they kept coming out at me, so I would back up to get away from them, but because the camera was set, I kept backing up out of the scene. I was glad when that part was over."
For viewers, even those barely interested in undersea adventures, the 40-minute movie is over all too quickly. Baldwin sums up the reason: "There's an awful lot of interesting life on the planet, and there's so much that we still don't know. That's why working underwater in Galapagos was so special. This place already has this long history of exploration on land, starting with Charles Darwin, and to go back, using modern tools, and go down and find all these new species, it really does show the continuous nature of exploring our planet."
Galapagos is playing at the IMAX Theatre Sunset Place in the Shops at Sunset Place, 5701 Sunset Dr., South Miami.