Dolphins are the “creatures we might have been if we had lived in the sea,” declares soft-spoken narrator Pierce Brosnan in the IMAX film Dolphins. The movie explores the mystique of these feisty, flirty, gregarious, intelligent, and mysterious mammals, of which there are 40 species. And they are the stars.
In an educational mode, the filmmakers follow scientists investigating dolphin communication and feeding in the Bahamas and South America; they briefly observe a naturalist who has been communing with a dolphin in the waters off the Turks and Caicos Islands for the past fifteen years. Interesting tidbits are offered: Dolphins haven't undergone any anatomical changes in five million years, are highly responsive to touch, and can swim as far as 50 miles in one day. They are equipped with a sophisticated ecolocation system that gives them near-x-ray vision and have eyes that move independently of one another. They are most endangered by nets and pollution, and female dolphins vocalize three times more than than males.
Many clichéd scenes are showcased, including the dolphins planting kisses on their trainers and leaping out of the water in tandem. In one scene the camera points straight down into a tank as a dolphin shoots up, practically slamming into the lens. Much of the movie is set to calypsofied recycled songs by Sting, such as “Be Still My Beating Heart.” The only original tune is the film's ersatz theme which contains the lamentable line: “I need you like this hole in my head.”
While their language of chirping, clicking, squawking, and whistling may sound like a lighthearted stream out of whoopee cushions, the “smartest animals on Earth” can also be quite nasty, defying the myth of the friendly Flipper. The mammals deliver powerful kicks with their tails and take chunks out of their fellow fish at the slightest provocation and sometimes just indiscriminately. The aforementioned naturalist, who was saved from being eaten by a hammerhead shark thanks to the intervention of his trusty dolphin pal, perhaps says it best: “You can never be sure what an animal will do.”