Mysteries of the Unseen World – IMAX documentary

Unseen WorldA review by Nalini Haynes

Unseen World is a documentary made by all the right people including National Geographic and the National Science Foundation. It’s 45 minutes of high definition 3D footage of things the naked eye cannot see. We’re introduced to an African-American guy and his daughter in a rooftop garden before the camera perspective changes to the tiny, the swift and the out-of-this-world.

Unseen World features everything from time-lapse photography – including some historical footage of dancing flowerpots – to slow-speed footage of an owl in flight. And that owl! Labyrinth and Ladyhawke, eat your heart out! It’s the minion’s favourite scene: an owl stares straight out of the screen as it swoops closer and closer, claws outstretched… all in 3D on the glorious IMAX screen, of course.

We see a family scene where a mum and daughter decorate a cake before we’re treated to a close-up of a horrific-looking bug on the family dog’s paw. Other scenes diverge from this point too, exploring light waves, for example.

My only criticism of this documentary was the visual representation of long light waves without an explanation that ‘length’ is measured from the X axis not the Y axis of the graph (the lay person might say the ‘long’ waves were actually ‘tall and skinny’). It threw me while I mentally dug up my high school physics lessons.

Visual imagery included depictions of gamma rays, x-rays, slowing down bugs, showing microscopic detail on a butterfly’s wings and much more. The bit about bacteria living on humans made me itch for a disinfectant shower even though the narrator assured us a lot of bacteria is necessary and healthy. The picture of what causes foot odour? EEW!

Firmly set in the United States with footage focusing on North America, Unseen World casually uses a couple of African-American actors. The scenes with the girl and boy skateboarding left no doubt that the director’s intention was to depict equity without laboring the point.

I puzzled over Unseen World’s target audience because it seems to be for everyone. I’d show it to young children as a taster for the intricacies of science and the imagery without expecting them to understand the detail. I highly recommend Unseen World to students learning high school physics, and to artists and writers of all ages. I defy artists and writers – especially fantasy and horror writers – to watch this movie and not get inspired. If you aren’t inspired by Unseen World, it’s time to hang up your tools of trade and take a holiday!