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‘Fires of Kuwait’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 04, 1992


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Remember the feeling in "Lawrence of Arabia" when Peter O'Toole's lit match was transformed into the sun rising over the Sahara? You can get that thrill in spades any night at the National Air and Space Museum. "Fires of Kuwait," currently in its ninth week, shows you the desert as never seen before -- under an apocalyptic cloud of black doom.

A record of the international attempt to quell more than 700 burning oil wells left by a vengeful Saddam Hussein, the 36-minute film is a compelling experience on the five-story IMAX screen, with state-of-the-art sound swirling around you like a sandstorm. On a normal screen, "Kuwait," directed by David Douglas, would rate only as a passably engaging "Frontline"-type documentary. But in the IMAX format (10 times larger than 35mm film), it becomes a titanic, archetypal man-versus-nature clash.

Towering, machinery-melting fires belch from holes in the earth all over this arid wasteland under a cloud blacker than pitch. "If left alone," says the narration, "the fires would burn for 100 years." The firefighters, assembled by more than 32 nations ("the largest nonmilitary mobilization in history," we're told), use a variety of fascinating techniques. One involves ramming an enormous steel tube down the throat of the inferno, then pouring mud down the spout; another employs the powerful engines of a MIG-21 fighter plane to hyper-spray water at the flames.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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