by Leila Molana-Allen
CENTRAL PARK — A new attraction at the Central Park Zoo tells the story of the animal inhabitants of the Arctic and Antarctic, complete with tangible mist, real snow and freezing polar winds.
The BBC's "Planet Earth: Ice Worlds 4D Experience" uses physical special effects to enforce its conservation message. Using a combination of 3D film, lighting, sound and various mechanised weather and movement effects, the zoo's theater-goers are temporarily transported to the polar ice caps.
As thousands of penguins huddle together against a driving winter blizzard, the audience is bombarded with artificial snow from ceiling outlets; when a colossal melting iceberg cracks, releasing thousands of gallons of icy water, jets spray the viewer's legs to convey the intensity of the current.
Like a simulated roller-coaster ride, the theater's seats move and vibrate to reflect a baby polar bear climbing a steep cliff, or the rolling tremor of shattering ice.
Viewers should be prepared to leave with snow-filled hair, damp shins, and a sense that they have seen the world from a polar bear's point of view.
The 17-minute film documents the plight of the indigenous species of the north and south poles as they survive changing environmental conditions.
Narrated by David Attenborough, the documentary does not provide much new information for anyone familiar with the threat the poles face from global warming, but offers the new experience of being physically thrown into the midst of the extreme elements.
"We can simulate anywhere from a mild breeze to a tornado," said Mark Cornell, senior vice president for Attractions Development at Simex-Iwerks, the company that supplies the special effects technology.
Cornell pointed out that all the effects are both bio-friendly and safe. The "weather" is made using filtered reverse osmosis water which is drinkable. He added that the theater uses plastic 3D glasses that can be recycled up to 100 times, to ensure they adhere to their own conservation message. "We're doing all the right things," he said.
"This content is so important to our mission," said Bob Moskowitz, director of Business Services for the Wildlife Conservation Society. "We're out there in the field conserving these penguins, these polar bears. This connects the zoo-goer to our work around the world."
The attraction, which opened April 2 at the theater, will run for the rest of the season.
The Central Park Zoo is located at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue.Tickets to see the film are $7. Screenings are also included in the Total Experience zoo pass, $18 for adults and $13 for children.