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Stunning Schmaltz


*Across the Sea of Time (NR)

Here's a movie that's schmaltzy and sentimental, with a thin and barely coherent plot, geared to the intellectual level of an inattentive fourth grader. It purports to tell us something about the vast and continuing migration of people from Eastern Europe to New York City. It's rated PG, in 3-D Imax. Sounds like the kind of movie that no adult would voluntarily suffer through, unless dragged there by the kids, right?

Wrong. Across the Sea of Time is visually stunning, even beautiful, consistently interesting and, occasionally, intensely moving.

Here's the story. A ten year-old Russian boy, Tomas Minton, stows away on a freighter bound for New York, hoping to make contact with the family of his distant relative, Leopold Minton, who emigrated to the United States nearly a century before. As a guide, he has only a handful of stereoscopic photos that Leopold, a professional photographer, sent back to Russia years before. He makes his way to Ellis Island, and thence through New York City, retracing Leopold's footsteps, as he searches for his family in the new world.

By some strange magic, the filmmakers have managed to transfer 19th and early 20th century stereoscopic images to the Imax format. Fresh, clear, breathtakingly real, the images linger on the screen, and dissolve into today's New York. An early black-and-white view of New York Harbor slowly dissolves into Manhattan Island, c. 2000; the audience gasps as the twin towers, clear and bright as a childhood memory, fill the screen. And as Tomas makes his way through New York's perils and delights, seeking a place that he can call home, we are reminded of the perils faced by our own immigrant ancestors, and of our own journeys through life.

If you haven't seen 3-D Imax, prepare yourself. The movie doesn't seem to be projected on a screen, but rather to float in space and surround the viewer. When the camera peers down from the top of the Woolworth Building, you feel vertigo. Tomas gives a carriage horse a bite of his apple, and you're tempted to reach out and touch the animal, whose head is virtually in your lap. This format makes a conventional movie screen look like a 12-inch black-and-white TV.

Perhaps because of the format's intensity, the movie is disproportionatly powerful. For anyone whose grandparents/great-grandparents came to America during the great wave of immigration at the turn of the 19th century, Across the Sea of Time is a joyous and revelatory experience. For the rest of us, it's illuminating and moving.

-- John Hazlehurst

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