A wide expanse of ocean envelopes the 60-foot tall screen. Slowly, a shark enters the shot and advances toward a viewer immersed in the natural habitat of the largest of carnivorous sharks, carcharodon carcharias: the great white.
“Great White Shark” (2013), a 40-minute documentary film, premieres Saturday at the dome theater in Exploration Place at 300 N. McLean Blvd.
The documentary’s opening date marks the launch of a half-million dollar upgrade to the dome theater's 360-degree projection system, meant to provide viewers with a brighter and more vibrant picture.
"It really feels like you're in the water with the sharks," said Christina Bluml, Exploration Place director of marketing. The dome's renovation is part of a series of updates to the 10-year-old Exploration Place, which includes new exhibits such as "Design Build Fly" and "Kansas Kids Connect."
Bluml said they chose the film to go along with the current exhibition, "Planet Shark: Predator or Prey, The Experience," which is on exhibition through Sept. 3.
“Now that the dome is all new, the software and hardware make the films amazing,” Bluml said. “I’ve seen many a child watching films in here, just completely fascinated."
More than 600 incandescent bulbs were replaced with LED lights ranging from white light to rainbow colors, said Daniel Bateman, Exploration Place public programs manager. When the projection lighting in the theater is reduced to around 40 percent, resulting in a dull and dark image, it’s close to what old projection system looked like.
“The LED lights save a ton of heat and energy,” Bateman said. “I mean if you imagine those hundreds of incandescent bulbs just beating down on you—it got pretty hot in here. It also helps us save a bit on expenses, too.”
The dome theater also functions as a Planetarium, which is used mostly for school field trip shows, Bluml said.
Bateman said for the Planetarium they use Sky-Skan’s Dark Matter technology, which started as a round ball with holes in it before it began to be digitized around 20 years ago.
“Now we can put up the night sky today or what it will look like in 20 years from now,” Bateman said. “What we can do with this new technology is just so broad, who knows what we’ll be able to do in two years. It’s kind of like controlling the universe, but better.”
Bateman said “Great White Shark” will be at the dome theater for one year, running every other screening with IMAX’s “Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag” (2004)through September, when IMAX’s “Pandas” (2018) will start.
“The whole point of this exhibition and this film is conservation,” Bateman said. “It’s about educating people on sharks. They’re not just going around biting people. They’re very important for the ecosystem.”
Bluml said guests can come to Exploration Place just to see a film and experience the dome theater, or if they already have an exhibition ticket, they can add on a dome show for a couple more dollars.
“If people haven’t been to the dome in a while, give it a try,” Bluml said. “It’s an immersive experience like any other.”
"Great White Shark" at the dome theater
Tickets: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for youth. Children 2 and younger will be admitted free.
When: 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday. The daily schedule can be found on Exploration Place's website.