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Visually stunning 'Whales: An Unforgettable Journey' worth trip to Clay Center

WANT TO GO?

"Whales: An Unforgettable Journey," Opens Saturday

WHERE: Clay Center

WHEN: Noon, 1, 3 and 4 p.m. Saturday; 1, 3, and 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Through Nov. 8.

TICKETS: Adults $9, children $8. Gallery packages available. INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.org

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Summertime is usually an excuse to make a trip to the beach. The Clay Center takes that trip a little farther out to sea with its new giant screen film, "Whales: An Unforgettable Journey," which opens Saturday.

"Whales" is gorgeous and immersive -- one of the best-looking films the Clay Center has shown. Viewed on the dome of the ElectricSky Theater, the scenes of the ocean are occasionally breathtaking, giving an amazing perspective of several different species of whales.

 Shown truer to size, thanks to the format of the film, the whales are seen as more than gigantic lumbering creatures. In the depths of the ocean, these 100-ton mammals are playful and astoundingly graceful, and "Whales" really captures that.

"Whales" also presents an interesting menagerie. There are several different species of whale including blue whales, humpback whales, right whales and the predatory killer whales.

The film also manages to toss in a few interesting facts about these giants, including one repeated over and over: There's a lot we don't know. Whales are one of the most frequently observed creatures on the planet, yet we still have trouble figuring out many of the things they do.

This is all great stuff. Where the film is weaker is with the story, which is very loose.

"Whales" views like a couple of different documentaries cobbled together and then narrated by the same actor for continuity. In this case, they got Patrick Stewart, best known for his role as Captain Picard on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," but who also won an Emmy for his turn as Captain Ahab in a TV production of "Moby Dick."

With "Whales," the camera crew travels to different locations, among them Argentina, Hawaii, Newfoundland and Alaska. At each place, a scientist is introduced and allowed to be a little colorful. Then he or she adds their small part to the broader discussion of whales and disappear without ever being mentioned again.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. A story with characters/people to get involved with might detract from the lecture on the whales. It's just that there isn't a lot to tie everything together, and the film comes across as a little scatterbrained.

It might have been nice if the film had picked a couple of whales of a specific species and focused on their journey from beginning to end. As it happens, a pair of humpback whales is introduced kind of late in the middle of the film, and their arriving at Alaska from Hawaii sort of serves as the ending.

This is all really a minor complaint, though. The visuals alone make "Whales: An Unforgettable Journey" worth the trip out to the Clay Center even if the journey sort of meanders a bit. Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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