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MOVIE REVIEW : A COSMIC JOURNEY IN ‘BORN OF STARS’

“We Are Born of Stars,” the Imax film opening at the California Museum of Science and Industry today and “Captain EO,” continuing at Disneyland, offer very different styles of state-of-the-art, 3-D film making. The glitzy “Captain EO” seem to burst out of the screen, showering the audience with visual fireworks; the unassuming “We Are Born of Stars” draws the viewer into the screen, to lead him through a cosmic journey.

A joint creation of Canadian, Japanese and American artists and technicians, “Born of Stars” uses computer animation to travel from the microscopic scale of atomic nuclei to a macrocosmic vision of an exploding supernova. The gigantic (70 feet wide by five stories tall) Imax screen gives the 11-minute, black-and-white film an impressive power.

The most intriguing image in the film depicts a long, helical strand of DNA, twisting and looping onto itself to form the enormously complex structure of a single gene.

“Captain EO,” the much-hyped collaboration by George Lucas, Francis Coppola and Michael Jackson, offers even more impressive 3-D effects in color. Stop-motion animation, holography, radio-controlled models, lasers and elaborate makeup are combined in a 17-minute barrage of dazzling visuals.

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When a small asteroid floats out of the screen and comes to rest a few feet from the viewer’s nose, the effect seems so uncannily real that people try to touch it. Even more exciting is a breakneck trip through a canyon of machinery--essentially a replay of Luke Skywalker’s flight through the trench of the Death Star in “Star Wars,” but seen from the co-pilot’s seat.

For all its wondrous imagery, “Captain EO” is nothing more than the most elaborate rock video in history: Like a hollow chocolate Easter bunny, it’s a glorious surface over a void. No one expects an amusement-park diversion to be “Gone With the Wind,” but given that list of credits and the film’s lavish budget (rumored to be between $15 million-$20 million, although Disney refuses to release any figures), audiences have a right to expect more than empty flash.

“Born of Stars” tells a story, and tells it more effectively. The more modest film leaves the viewer with a sense of closure, a feeling of having traveled with the film makers and reached a destination. Ultimately, it’s the more satisfying entertainment, even if it lacks the eclipsing technical legerdemain of “Captain EO.”

Screening with “We Are Born of Stars” is “Skyward,” a 23-minute Canadian/Japanese documentary that touches on various aspects of man’s relationship with birds but explores none of them in depth. Tighter editing and a more focused structure would make the film more effective.

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“Skyward” and “We Are Born of Stars” show at the Mitsubishi Imax Theater of the California Museum of Science and Industry, 700 State Drive, Exposition Park, Los Angeles, at 11 a.m. and 1, 3, 5 and 7 p.m. daily. Admission is $4 for adults; $2 for students, senior citizens and children 12 and under.


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