The large-screen IMAX format is encountering difficulty—not in terms of technology, but in terms of science and religion.
“Galapagos” is one IMAX film being criticized for promoting evolution. (IMAX)
Science documentaries that mention evolution are finding it more difficult to gain distribution at the nation's IMAX theaters, according to a recent New York Times article.
Rejection of films mentioning evolution seems most common in the South, industry insiders say, where directors of theaters and museums showing IMAX films say audiences are most sensitive to content suggesting evolution.
For example, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History in Texas test screened "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," an underwater film sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Rutgers University. After the test audience expressed concern about the film's suggestion that life on Earth may have begun near undersea vents, the museum declined to pick up the film.
"Some people said it was blasphemous," Carol Murray, the museum's marketing director, told the Times. People in the screening audience reacted with statements like, "I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact" and "I don't agree with their presentation of human existence," according to the Times.
Murray told the Times she could not pick up a film for the museum if the potential audience would reject it.
Roughly a dozen other IMAX theaters across the South, including the Charleston IMAX Theater in South Carolina, also declined to show the film.
"We have definitely a lot more creation public than evolution public," Lisa Buzzelli, the theater's director, told the Times. "Being in the Bible Belt, the movie does have a lot to do with evolution, and we weigh that carefully."
Another IMAX film that came under fire was "Galapagos," which explores the biological diversity of the archipelago where Charles Darwin theorized about evolution. The film was produced by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.
The film's IMAX Web site includes a link to the National Science Teachers Association guide to teaching about the Galapagos Islands, part of which is "Resources for Teaching Evolution."
The NSTA's guide says "evolution has not been emphasized in science curricula in a manner commensurate to its importance because of official policies, intimidation of science teachers, the general public's misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, and a century of controversy."
Hyman Field, a former NSF official, said he was angry over theaters' and museums' decisions to reject what he considers a scientifically accurate film like "Volcanoes."
"It's very alarming," Field told the Times, "all of this pressure being put on a lot of the public institutions by the fundamentalists."
Filmmaker James Cameron, a producer on "Volcanoes," said concern over references to evolution is a sign of the times.
"It seems to be a new phenomenon," Cameron told the Times, "obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science."
Even if only a few theaters reject a film, the effect on a film is potentially significant given the relatively small number of IMAX theaters.
Only 240 IMAX screens exist across the globe, with most being independently owned and operated, according to the IMAX Web site.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.