Untrue to its name, "Wild Safari 3D" is pretty tame, a harmless but surprisingly thrill-free you-are-there Imax tour through some of the most beautiful parks and game preserves of South Africa.
The film takes viewers on a photographic hunt for Africa's "Big Five," the most prized and exciting animals on that rich and varied continent. And filmmaker Ben Stassen bags his elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos and cape buffalo, along with a few zebras, giraffes and sundry antelopes thrown in for good measure.
Still, the 3D that "Wild Safari" was filmed in proves to be more of a distraction than a benefit in a movie that, while photographed with the same amazing detail and intimacy that has made "March of the Penguins" such a hit, never reaches out to grab viewers, literally or figuratively. Stassen takes his mission of replicating a real-life safari a bit too much to heart as he swoops his camera through swaths of colorless grasses or past overhanging trees; if you have only an hour in South Africa, you'd rather see more fauna than flora.
But when they're on, those fauna do shine, especially a pair of mating leopards, one of whom is filmed lazily napping in a tree beforehand: It's a sublime moment of stillness and tension. "Wild Safari," co-produced by the South African tourism board, was clearly designed to promote a sense of environmental stewardship as much as travel to that breathtaking country. With luck it will succeed in both missions, if only that more people will see first-hand what "Wild Safari" captured only a fraction of on film.
-- Ann Hornaday