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Out in the Cold

With outside temperatures still hanging in the 80s, the Museum of Science and Industry’s IMAX theater is offering a show that’s sure to send audiences home shivering. Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, which opened Nov. 16, takes IMAX’s “you are there” motto to heart in telling the tale of a group of explorers who set out to cross the world’s coldest continent.

Narrated by Kevin Spacey, Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure focuses on the efforts of Sir Ernest Shackleton to save his crew through terrible hardships. Though Shackleton and his crew of 27 men failed to accomplish their goal of crossing Antarctica, they ultimately achieved a far greater one, as they managed to survive being stranded in the harsh Antarctic climate for two years without losing a single human life.

Shackleton and his men set sail aboard the Endurance in August of 1914. In order to get to the Antarctic mainland, Shackleton had to first sail through the icy Weddell Sea. The ship had been tearing through ice floes for two days when Shackleton decided to cut the engines for one night to save fuel. When the crew awoke, the ship was frozen in a sea of ice, and there was nothing they could do.

As the crew settled in to wait for a change in season, Shackleton went to great lengths to keep the men in good spirits. He ordered the ship’s carpenter to build special living quarters for a more comfortable stay and kept the rest of the crew busy with a mix of chores and recreation.

But the ship was never freed from the ice. Instead, the ice continued to build, and the hull was eventually crushed, forcing the men to move on.

From there, the group of 28 men set up various camps on floating blocks of ice, hoping to drift far enough north that they could reach land. When this plan failed and the oncoming warm season threatened to melt the ice beneath them, Shackleton ordered the launching of the crew’s three lifeboats, and the men set out to row to safety. After seven days of rowing, Shackleton and his crew landed on the uninhabited Elephant Island. It was the first time the men had set foot on solid ground in 497 days, though their journey was far from over.

It would be another four months before the last of Shackleton’s men were rescued from Elephant Island, though not one life was lost in the numbing cold.

Shot mostly in crisp 70mm film and projected into Florida’s only domed IMAX theater, Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure also features still photography and 35mm black and white motion-pictures from the actual exploration. While the color shots show sweeping glimpses of clean Antarctic beauty, the historical footage portrays the struggle of men trapped in one of the most isolated corners of the globe.

Shot by the crew’s photographer, Frank Hurley, these grainy images also show a first-hand account of how the men maintained their unity in the face of desperation. Their situation seems almost enjoyable in clips of snowy soccer matches and men playing with dogs. Though much of the original film was lost due to limited space once the ship was abandoned, what remains provides a clear portrayal of how the men managed to keep hope alive in hopeless situations.

Hurley’s stunning images also provided inspiration for the crew of Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure by offering a visual starting point in the story. Based on Hurley’s images, the art department was able to create a detailed recreation of the camp Shackleton’s men set up on the ice. Aside from creating sets, the production crew of Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure was able to build props based on Hurley’s images as well as get a feel for the overall mood of the men while camped in the middle of the Weddell Sea.

Where Hurley’s photos leave off, however, the mammoth IMAX images take over. From shots of pure white Antarctic cliffs towering over a glassy sea, to mossy rocks inhabited by penguins, the scenes depict just the kind of visual grandeur IMAX audiences have come to expect.

Like Shackleton’s story itself, these images are larger than life, and they convey the Antarctic feel in a way regular film never could. Even without the benefit of an IMAX screen, the story of Ernest Shackleton and his men is a gripping saga. Within MOSI’s domed walls, however, it’s downright chilling.

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