The new IMAX film, “Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure” represents a tour through some of the continent’s most notable game preserves, with the intent of shooting wildlife specimens not with guns, the ways hunters used to do, but with cutting-edge camera equipment. The 45-minute picture visits five locales to track “the Big Five” among African animals–the elephant, the Cape buffalo, the rhino, the leopard and the lion. Unsurprisingly, the team manages to secure revealing footage of them all, despite the fact that, as the narration (professionally done by Chuck Hargrove) informs us, some, like the leopards, are often very elusive.
In the structure chosen by writer-director Ben Stassen (though the narration is credited to Mose Richards), the film follows an oval-shaped traversal of South Africa, with the camera situated in the back of an all-terrain vehicle driven by guide Liesl Eichenberger, a pleasant young woman over whose shoulder the audience peers as we progress over the single-lane mud roads. (She’s joined on one occasional by a tracker expert in finding the especially hard-to-locate leopards.) But the real hero of the expedition are the camera operators, led by director of photography Sean MacLeon Phillips, who capture some extraordinary footage in what must have been difficult circumstances. Notably, the 3-D effects are quite restrained, imparting an almost tactile presence to some of the scenes but not indulging in zoom-out perspectives for their own sake.
The whole of “Wild Safari,” in fact, is pretty low-key, and despite the title you might find it considerably tamer than a great many nature documentaries. Though the excitement level doesn’t get very high, however, it’s a solid, respectable introduction to the South African preserves, and it carries a sound environmental message as well.