River at Risk
Studio: Imagine Entertainment
US Rating: Not Rated
Film Length: 45 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and French Dolby Digital 5.1, Stereo
Review Date: March 1, 2009
*Note: Grand Canyon Adventure - River at Risk was originally created for exhibition in IMAX theaters
The Show - out of
The large format IMAX films, seen in IMAX theatres are incredible experiences. Short films that educate, entertain and enthrall are the mainstay of these oversized screens and, while IMAX has grown itself over the years, profiling big blockbuster films, like The Dark Knight, its true source of constant marvel is short film documentaries. Filmmaking Company MacGillivray-Freeman has been creating documentary style films that capture imagination with a grand visual boldness and lushly filmed grandeur for decades. The films created have explored and educated on the magnificence of the planet, from the depths of the sea, to the heights of flight. The library includes the first film of theirs, To Fly!, through incredible and at times Oscar nominated and winning shorts such as The Living Sea, Dolphins and Everest. The incredible talents of the MacGillivray-Freeman company, independently run out of Laguna Beach, CA, have even been used in major motion pictures, notably Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for the sweeping aerial shots.
Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, much like 2008’s Hurricane on the Bayou is an environmentally conscious large screen format short film intended to introduce us to nature’s majesty, engulf us in the beauty of a spot on this earth (the Colorado River) and educate us about its importance as a link in the chain of life. The message here is simple – the world is running out of potable/fresh water and we have the chance, and the responsibility, to do something about it. This film and others like it present a reasoned explanation, not damnation, of man’s impacts on the environment, unintended for the most part, but effects nonetheless, that are damaging and can and do yield devastating effects.
Effects such as that of the Dam at Lake Powell, which changed the rivers ecology and, when coupled with declining rainfalls for a century or so and increased consumption from exploding populations, have combined to drastically deplete river levels which has downstream impacts to not only the ecology, but the populated areas such as Las Vegas which rely on that water source. This film tries hard to express those facts and the ramifications of them with the spectacle of marvelous footage and through Robert Redford’s narration, which is soft and reliable.
Redford narrates the facts and history of the river, helping tell the story we see. This film takes a journey down the Colorado River, traversing the rapids and still waters of the Colorado River in rafts and Kayaks. Deadly and stunning, the experience, which the camera work embeds us in, navigating the rushing waters that barrage the boaters and spray them with explosions of the river against their raft, is riveting. We meet Wade Davis, an anthropologist and author researching for a book about the Colorado River and the effects upon it. He is joined by his daughter, Robert F Kennedy Jr. and his daughter and finally Shann, a Native American River guide (the only one) and her daughter.
This team discusses the beauty and importance of the landscape using some effective comparative shots that highlight the changed landscape. IMAX footage is compared to photographs taken by a Civil War survivor just 30 years after the invention of photography – and this reinforces for us the effects that the Powell Dam, and other ‘interference’ have had. The Colorado River, which is fed up to 75% by the snows of the Rocky Mountains, which melt and pour across the American desert though Colorado, Arizona and California and in to Mexico where it should reach the sea, but no longer does, is suffering and the changes we see are startling.
Make no mistake, however, this is not a film that rams its environmentally cautious message down our throats – but rather seeks to inspire awe, love and respect for this great river and concern enough to understand its importance and what effects the lack of water conservation, careless use has brought and poorly planned meddling can have.
The Sweeping aerial shots are gorgeous as usual and you will find some good use of computer generated effects, particularly during the opening credits that were purposefully more explicit to enhance the 3D presentation of this IMAX film. This presentation is not in 3D and thus the overall effect of some of that CGI is lost in 2D, but does provide still provide a playful opening credit sequence.
Some might argue that the changes in the environment and the shrinking river levels are a natural progression for the river; an effect that would have taken place regardless of humanities actions. But the film provides a solid linking of cause and effect that will, at the very least, give everyone pause.
Accompanied by songs and music by the Dave Matthews Band, which provides a soundtrack evocative of folk and Americana romanticism, this latest IMAX adventure is another fine film.
Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk is presented for the first time on Blu-Ray with a 1080p High Definition transfer and shown here with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
Another lush, crisp presentation with an abundance of life-like images, clean and pristine. The dusty reds, murky and muddy rushing rivers and clear blues of the sky are beautifully delivered. Of particular note are the vivid greens of trees, remarkably turquoise waters and misty whites of the falls that look like an oasis of paradise among the dry, rocky surrounds of the canyon walls. Another great video presentation.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is superb. The opening moments of the film envelope you with gushes of water that rampage in the surrounds. The Native American poem that echoes through the speakers at the beginning and end provides a sense of time and place. But the booming crashes of waters that shakes the foundations, bombing out of the subwoofer and wrapping throughout the front and surround speakers sets you inside the events onscreen.
The Dave Matthews Band’s music with plucking guitars that you hear strumming through the surrounds and pulsing in the front speakers is a joy to listen to – more so for fans of their music. Along with a more traditional music score composed and arranged by Steve Wood and Stefan Lessard (Dave Matthews Band bassist), the fidelity of the audio will impress and please throughout.
Making Of – (32:00) The ‘Making Of’s’ that accompany these releases always serve as extensions of the main feature. This one is no different. In addition to the discussion of how this subject was chosen and the people we follow were made a part of the story, we see the difficulty of bringing the 50+ cases of equipment downstream, getting the 300lb IMAX 3D cameras into place for some great shots and the dangers of riding some of the most dangerous rapids in North America.
Film Trivia Quiz – A good, short quiz asking questions about things the film covered that is smoothly handled.
Sample the Film Soundtrack – Enjoy two tracks from the film, ‘Grand Canyon Railway’and ‘Lava Falls’.
Learn More – A text page with facts about water use and some frightening statistics.
The Colorado River & Grand Canyon – A fact sheet.
A Message From Teva – (2:52) - The shoe company, a sponsor of this IMAX film provide a short film about games and events they sponsor etc. A PR piece mainly.
Water Saving Tips from Kohler – (2:51) – Another of the film’s sponsor provides a PR piece but this time in the form of an eco-friendly message.
Tara’s Music Video – (4:06) – Tara Davis, a character in the film, provides a music video for a song created for this video release.
Play MacGillivray-Freeman Films - (7:36)– A short retrospective on their film library.
About Greg MacGillivray – Another fact sheet with biographical information.
Companion Book – A fact sheet with details about Wade Davis’ book, of which this IMAX film partly chronicled the writing of, can be found here.
Trailers – Trailers for 12 MacGillivray-Freeman films in High Definition with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound.
Live Connection – Link to e-enabled features.
This isn’t the cleanest narrative of a MacGillivray-Freeman Company IMAX film, but the critical message isn’t lost here. Some may have wished for a harder hitting voice in the conversation for water conservation and the impact of humanity on our surrounding environment – others may not buy into, or may be turned off by the eco-message in play here – but regardless of how you feel about the underlying message – the majesty of the Grand Canyon, the magnificence of the Colorado River and the Marvel of the footage capture by this seasoned set of filmmakers cannot be denied. Another success that, while naturally more fitting for the IMAX theaters, still conjures the exquisiteness and beauty of Mother Nature’s accomplishments superbly in our homes.