Image Entertainment // 2006 // 42 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 26th, 2009
A powerfully moving large-format film unlike any other.
Filming on the IMAX documentary Hurricane on the Bayou began approximately three months before Hurricane Katrina struck. It was initially intended as a portrait of the New Orleans wetlands, but when the storm hit, the nature of the film changed dramatically.
Narrator Meryl Streep begins by setting the stage with a snapshot of New Orleans. We get a very brief look at the wildlife, the highlights of the scenery, and a bit of history on the importance of music in the area. However, this film is not destined to become just another travelogue. It becomes clear from the beginning that Hurricane on the Bayou is going to be concerned with rather serious things. Dr. Heidi Cullen of The Weather Channel opens the film on a grim note, stating that the TWC felt a need to be involved with the film due to the nature of its message. Sure enough, the film quickly puts the majority of its focus on the death of the wetlands in Lousiana. We're given information on how the struggle of the wetlands directly affects the local economy and serve as a "speed bump" for hurricanes. The blame is placed on the levees that were built during the 1930s, which prevent some of the wetlands from being able to replenish themselves naturally.
We meet a young girl who has decided to do a class project on the struggles of the wetlands. She actually ends up providing more narration than Streep, relating the information she learns as her project progresses. The decision to tell this story from the young girl's perspective seems designed to engage younger viewers, who are most likely to respond to this sort of heartfelt environmental message, anyway. Though most of these MacGillivray-Freeman IMAX films tend to stick to captured footage, this one offers up a couple of scripted sequences for dramatic effect. The most notable of these offers a firsthand look at what it feels like to be in a house that is getting flooded. It could be argued that this scene goes a bit over-the-top, but I have no real problem with it.
The third narrator is a local blues musician named Tab Benoit who provides a few musical interludes throughout the film. Much of his music has an environmental theme, and he takes time to share some more information on the plight of the wetlands. Benoit also serves as the primary narrator throughout the entire Hurricane Katrina sequence, which is a genuinely moving and heart-wrenching account of the tragic event. It's a very personal and intimate look at the event which feels surprisingly fresh and new. So many documentaries and news reports have concerned themselves with capturing the sheer massive scope of the storm, but Hurricane on the Bayou chooses to look at the storm through a series of devastating images on a smaller scale. We see animals being tossed around by the wind, families attempting to save their belongings and each other, and water towers crashing to the ground. Some of this is real captured footage, while other moments appear to be CGI-enhanced recreations.
The scenes portraying the aftermath are certainly very real, and these artful hi-def images really add a realistic resonance that feels much different from the images we were flooded with during the newscasts in the weeks that followed. In a way, the images that are captured here are as spectacular as the sort of thing you might see in a typical IMAX outing, but this time the images are rooted in a deep sadness. It's a very touching experience, and one of the most directly moving portraits of the storm I've seen. It brushes aside the clinical objectivity of the news reports, along with the political anger of something like Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke. It's simply a 42-minute snapshot of a broken land filled with broken lives. All of this is accentuated by a remarkable New Orleans jazz/blues soundtrack featuring the likes of Fats Domino, Dr. John, Aaron Neville, and others.
The film really does look excellent in hi-def, though for a variety of reasons a significant amount of less impressive stock footage had to be incorporated into the film. The scenes shot on IMAX cameras look spectacular. Blacks are deep, facial detail is excellent, and background detail is very strong. The colors are rich and vibrant, and the life of New Orleans seems particularly vivid. Audio is strong as well, particularly in the music department. The songs fill the room with a melancholy vibe, and there are a few stormy sequences that will give your speakers a workout, as well. A closing musical sequence taking place throughout various parts of New Orleans is very effective. I will say that I noticed a small amount of distortion in a few lines of Streep's dialogue, but it's not bad. Extras on the disc include a half-hour making-of documentary, some fun facts, a trivia track, and a brief featurette on the work of MacGillivray-Freeman Films. The disc is also BD-Live enabled.
Hurricane on the Bayou may not be as spectacular as some of the other recent IMAX efforts, but it's easily one of the most touching.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 42 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Fun Facts