LOS ANGELES (AP) – Some IMAX theaters at science centers have declined to show “Volcanoes of the Deep Sea” – but is it because of debates about evolution, or is it just a so-so movie?

Filmmakers behind “Volcanoes” said executives at some Southern IMAX theaters told them they worried the movie might rile conservative Christians partly because of its references to the way life may have evolved.

“A number of theaters said, ‘We’re not taking the film literally for fear of the reaction of the audience,'” said Richard Lutz, a Rutgers University oceanographer and chief scientist for “Volcanoes.”

Stephen Low, the film’s producer-director, said 10 to 15 huge-screen IMAX theaters decided against showing it. That represents about 20 percent of the potential market among IMAX cinemas that cater to scientific documentaries, he said.

“Volcanoes” has been on the IMAX circuit since 2003, playing in about 35 theaters.

Science centers in a few Southern communities opted not to show “Volcanoes” after test audiences objected to its theories that life may have evolved from bacteria able to live in the water around super-hot vents of deep-sea volcanoes.

“We have definitely a lot more creation public than evolution public,” Lisa Buzzelli, who heads the Charleston IMAX theater in South Carolina, told The New York Times last week. The theater had not ruled out ever showing the movie, “but being in the Bible Belt, the movie does have a lot do with evolution, and we weigh that carefully.”

Buzzelli did not return calls from The Associated Press.

IMAX theaters at science centers in Charlotte, N.C., and Fort Worth, Texas, received similar comments at test screenings, but officials at both said they passed on “Volcanoes” mainly because the movie received low marks on quality.

Now, though, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History plans to run it because of the publicity the controversy has generated.

Van Romans, the museum’s director, said he has received about 75 letters and e-mails from people saying the center should run the film.

The museum originally passed on “Volcanoes” because planners felt they could draw better crowds with other documentaries, but the film now has stronger box-office potential, Romans said.

“There’s interest in this movie now, and we hope to take advantage of that,” Romans said. “We believe there should be full access to information, and this place is responsibly committed to that. It’s important we show the movie now, and I think that shows we have the ability to change our minds.”

Executives at several Southern science centers said test audiences disliked the film’s music and narration, found the tone too academic, and the deep-sea images lacking in color.

“The scientific team and research on the film was top-notch,” said Anita Kern, dean of science at Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum of Natural History, whose IMAX theater chose not to run “Volcanoes.” “But when you’re doing IMAX films, you’re doing it for the general public. What you want is to educate people in very entertaining ways. This film just didn’t do it. It was slow moving and a little dry.”

Kern said she did not recall anyone in the museum’s test audience making comments about the evolution theories presented in “Volcanoes.”

“Volcanoes” filmmaker Low said science centers are calling it a “lousy film” so they do not have to admit they bowed to religious sentiment.

“I think if you’ve got a tax number, nonprofit status, as a science museum, keep it to science,” Low said. “Let the church across the street, they’ve got their own nonprofit, let them do their own thing. Don’t mix the two.”

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