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  DVD Reviews - The Big Picture: IMAX Films On DVD

      Date posted: October 29, 2001

The Great Barrier Reef; George Casey & Paul Novros, directors; Graphic Films Corporation/Slingshot Entertainment; IMAX 4:3; English & Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1; 38 Minutes

The Greatest Places; Director uncredited; The Enterprise/Slingshot Entertainment; IMAX 4:3; English, French, German Dolby Digital 5.1; 38 Minutes

Niagara: Miracles, Myths & Magic; Kieth Merrill, Director; Destination Cinema/The Enterprise/Slingshot Entertainment; IMAX 4:3; English, French-Canadian, German, Japanese, Mandarin, & Korean Dolby Digital 5.1; 40 Minutes

Great Barrier Reef

     

Slingshot Entertainment does not make IMAX films, but does package them for DVD release in clear plastic cases, which break even more easily than CD jewel boxes. The Greatest Places is a quintessential travelog that takes us to the Amazon, Greenland, Iguazu Falls, the Namib Desert, the Okavango Delta, and to Tibet. Why? I guess, because they’re there.

      But a wonderfully dramatic narration by someone named Avery Brooks out-Lornes Lorne Green in its voice-of-doom portentousness, and makes a script of pure drivel sound like Shakespeare, telling us that all this eye candy photography of these marvellous places is important, and every time you wonder about it, or the mind starts to wander, the IMAX music score swells with orchestral splendour. God, I love this stuff! Films like this make me feel like a kid seeing CinemaScope with surround sound for the first time at the Capitol Theatre when I was 10. Remember The Robe? Who’d think that technology would make one regress to childhood.

      And, of course, the agent of this magic was the new 64″ 16 x 9 Pioneer Elite PRO-710 HD TV fed a progressive scan component video picture from the DV-38A DVD player. No belts, no pins, no scan lines.

      The Great Barrier Reef has the same sparkling cinematography, though here much of the scenery is underwater. The diversity of colours among the swimming life is amazing enough, and it is all captured with startling clarity. There’s also some serious shark footage, and this film makes a good followup to The Living Sea, and it’s happily Streep-free, narrated by Philip Clarke and Rosalind Ayers, who are probably Australian actors. They are suitably dramatic, and do well to fight a rather intrusive musical soundtrack. And for those who get into this sort of thing, there are two shark feeding frenzies, one canniballistic. Burp!

      The trouble with movies like these is that they have no real storyline, and pile verbal facts on visual ones till you’re numb, at which point the feeding frenzy comes to wake you up. That cannot be said about Niagara: Miracles, Myths & Magic. This film tells several stories, starting with The Maid of the Mist herself, a native girl who sacrifices herself to the falls.

      Again, the pictures are superb, the historical recreations quite amazing in their ingenuity of camera angles to avoid the wax museums, motels, and other tourist crap. The discovery of the cataract by LaSalle, seeking a passage to China, and the War of 1812 are chronicled, as are more recent events, including barrels over the falls, and a steamboat running the rapids. We also see Blondin’s tightrope walk across the gorge.

      The steamboat, an early Maid of the Mist, Alewala, is shot from shore, and more excitingly, from its own decks as it traverses the rapids to Queenston, but Annie Taylor’s barrel adventure is hoked up a lot, her cat going in black, and coming out white at the bottom of the falls; maybe there was a little flour left in the barrel bottom.

      But this does not negate the overall visual feast of the film, with some glorious aerial photography of falls and gorge at the end. The score is suitably majestic, with typical rising orchestral crescendi, and lots of french horns. It may be more than a little corny, but, hey, it’s Niagara. I grew up there, and I can attest that the mood of the film suits the place.

      And, in case you’ve heard the rumour that they turn off the falls at night, it’s true! I remember coming in early to sweep around Table Rock House one of the summers I worked there, and at 6 AM there was hardly a trickle going over the Canadian Falls; the rest of the water was being diverted through giant tunnels under the city to the Sir Adam Beck power plant near Queenston. And that’s the truth.

Andrew Marshall

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