“Amazon Adventure at M.S.I.’s Giant Dome Theater” by S.M. O’Connor               



As part of the celebration around the reopening of the Giant Dome Theater, the Museum of Science and Industry debuted Amazon Adventure (2017), a new film about the eleven-year-long journey of the English naturalist Henry Walter Bates (1825-1895) up the Amazon River in the 19th Century.  Amazon Adventure debuted on Memorial Day (May 29, 2017) inside the Museum of Science and Industry’s five-story wrap-around Giant Dome Theater (formerly the Omnimax® Theater).  In 2016, over 300,000 people visited the Museum of Science and Industry’s Omnimax® Theater, which opened in the Henry Crown Space Center in 1986.[1]  In May, the Museum of Science and Industry unveiled a state-of-the-art projection system in the Omnimax® Theater, which it renamed the Giant Dome Theater to emphasize the change in projection technology.  The Museum of Science and Industry is the first institution in Chicago and the second in the world to install the new system from D3D/Christie Laser Dome, a company based in north suburban Evanston, Illinois.  It uses three different laser projectors to create a composite image.  The Dover Foundation supports the Giant Dome Theater.

“We are excited to debut this technology in Chicago and believe that D3d and Christie’s laser-illuminated solution will continue to create the sense of awe that MSI guests have come to expect,” said Gil Perez, Director of Film and Guest Operations at the Museum of Science and Industry.  “As a world-class institution, we have set the bar extremely high, and we are confident that guests will feel even more immersed in the rich science-oriented topics presented in the movies we select.”

Bates spent the years between 1848 and 1859 traveling in the Brazilian Empire.  With his friend Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), he collected animal specimens from the Amazon Drainage Basin for British museums.  Bates was interested in animal mimicry, a phenomena in which one animal species gains an advantage by a superficial resemblance to another species.  He discovered myriad examples of a harmless butterfly species that had evolved to resemble a noxious butterfly species with the result that predators avoided the consumption of both species.  Wallace spent four years in the field and lost much of his collection in a fire when his ship burst into flames and sank on his return trip to the U.K. in 1852, but he managed to rescue his field notes.  Bates, meanwhile, continued their work in Brazil.  He sent specimens of 14,712 animal species (mostly insects) back to England, about 8,000 of which were hitherto unknown to science.  Many of these specimens ended up in the natural history departments of the British Museum that evolved into a separate institution, the Natural History Museum.  Bates hoped to help prove a theory of evolution. One of the authors whose works inspired Bates and Wallace to make their expedition was Charles Darwin (1809-1882), but Darwin had not yet published his theory of evolution by natural selection.  [Darwin had developed his theory between 1837 and 1839, but would not publish On the Origin of Species until 1859.]  Wallace developed his own theory of evolution before Darwin began to publish works on his theory of evolution.  It was Wallace’s belief that every new animal species to emerge diverges from a parent species and initially they share space and time but the new species outlives the parent species. From 1854 to 1862, Wallace worked in the field in the Malay Archipelago.  In 1858, Darwin published two of his own articles and one that Wallace had written and forwarded to him as a single work under both their names as “On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties: and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection” in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society.  Upon his return to England, Bates wrote the book The Naturalist on the River Amazons: A record of the Adventures, Habits of Animals, Sketches of Brazilian and Indian Life, and Aspects of Nature Under the Equator, during Eleven Years of Travel, published in two volumes in 1863.  The next year, Bates received the appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Royal Geography Society.  Wallace wrote articles for the ninth edition of Encyclopæædia Britannica and twenty-one books, including Geographical Distribution of Animals, published in 1877, and Island Life, published in 1880.

Amazon Adventure will be screened through the spring of 2018.  Titans of the Ice Age, narrated by Christopher Plummer, will be screened through Sunday, September 10, 2017.  Tiny Giants, narrated by Stephen Fry, will be screened through Sunday, September 10, 2017.

In a press release, the Museum of Science and Industry stated, “Guests will follow Bates’ 11-year journey during the 1800s into the Amazon rainforest, which culminates with an incredible scientific discovery about the development of life on Earth… Amazon Adventure… is the first new film to be presented using the Theater’s newly installed laser projection system… The film follows the inspirational true story of Bates’ historic findings on animal mimicry, the astonishing phenomenon where one animal adopts the look of another in order to survive, which provided proof to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Filmed on location in the lush Amazon region, Amazon Adventure immerses guests into a wild world of breathtaking beauty and captivating animal behavior.”

Painstakingly researched for three years, Amazon Adventure enlisted the expertise of more than 100 scientists and historical advisors. The team’s commitment to authenticity not only resulted in this rigorous re-creation, even using actual instruments and tools from the 1850s, but the writing team also incorporated many of Bates’ own words, as he was a gifted storyteller. The film was granted unprecedented access by the Natural History Museum of London to film Bates’ own scientific field notebooks and botanical drawings, and to film the butterflies he personally collected over 160 years ago.

“Walking in the footsteps of Henry Walter Bates, audiences get to follow the clues and see one of the most important discoveries about life unfold before them scene by scene,” said Executive Producer Sean B. Carroll. “Through Bates’ eyes, we see some of the first and best evidence of how and why species evolve. We hope this film, in tracing his adventures in the Amazon, shows where curiosity and perseverance can lead and inspires younger and older viewers alike.”

English director Mike Slee, best known for the television mockumentary The Great Martian War 1913-1917 (2013), directed Amazon Adventure, which stars Calum Finlay as Bates, Ed Birch as Wallace, Robert Dawes as Darwin, William Postlethwaite, Begê Muniz, and Louis Partridge as young Bates.  Canadian film editor, producer, and screenwriter Antoinette (“Toni”) Myers narrated the film.

Photo_1-_Henry_Bates_in_WorkshopFigure 1 Photo Credit: SK Films Caption: English naturalist Henry Walter Bates (played by Calum Finlay) works in his Amazon Drainage Basin workshop in Amazon Adventure (2017).  Bates sent specimens of 14,712 animal species (mostly insects) back to England, about 8,000 of which were hitherto unknown to science.

Photo_5-_The_CubertaFigure 2 Photo Credit: SK Films Caption: Henry Walter Bates (played by Calum Finlay) and Tando (played by Begê Muniz) on their sailboat called a “cuberta” in Amazon Adventure (2017).  Bates preferred to sail aboard a cuberta because he could both live on it and use it as a field workshop.  He could use it as a mothership by taking out a canoe on day trips to remote locations.

Photo_6-_Amazon_RiverFigure 3 Photo Credit: SK Films Caption: Here, we see the H.W. Bates cuberta sailing along the Amazon River as dramatized in Amazon Adventure (2017).

The Grass Isn't Always Greener
http://www.jamesarsalisbury.co.uk Copyright ©2016 James A. R. Salisbury, All Rights Reserved

Figure 4 Photo Credit: SK Films Caption: A brown-throated sloth reaches for tree vines in a tropical rainforest in Amazon Adventure (2017).  The film features fifty animal species.

Amazon Adventure is not included by Museum Entry (general admission) tickets and requires an additional timed-entry ticket. Tickets for films are available in Explorer ticket packages. For more information on Amazon Adventure and SK Films, visit www.msichicago.org and www.skfilms.ca.  One can buy tickets online in advance at https://www.msichicago.org/visit/tickets.  This time of year, the Museum of Science and Industry is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Museum of Science and Industry is located in the northeast corner of Jackson Park in the neighborhood of Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago.  It stands on 57th Street at the intersection with Lake Shore Drive.  The address is 5700 South Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60637.

[1] OMNIMAX and IMAX theater technologies were developed in the 1960s by the IMAX Systems Corporation of Toronto.  Known today as the IMAX Corporation, it is both a manufacturing company and a service company.  It manufactures IMAX cameras and projectors, produces films, develops IMAX film, and provides postproduction services.  At the time the Museum of Science and Industry built the OMNIMAX Theater in the Henry Crown Space Center, films were produced for the OMNIMAX format by the IMAX Systems Corporation, a consortium of science museum theaters, and other organizations.  In November of 2016, the IMAX Corporation and Marvel Television announced that the IMAX Corporation and ABC Studios would co-produce the series Marvels’ Inhumans, a spinoff of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which would be filmed with IMAX cameras. The first two episodes will debut in IMAX theaters in September of 2017.  Episodes of the show will thereafter air on A.B.C.

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