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MacGillivray Freeman Films is responsible for quite a few of the most popular recent IMAX films. One of their most successful endeavors was Everest, which detailed a climber's attempt to reach the top of that famed mountain. Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk follows a very similar formula, and features all the trademarks of a typical IMAX film: spectacular visual portraits of nature, sweeping music, a famous narrator, and an environmentally-friendly theme.
To be honest, I think the film actually begins on a rather bad note. We hear some very portentous opening narration from an echo-y female voice: "I am the clouds and the lakes. I am the ocean. I am the river, and I am everything." This is followed by a goofy montage featuring very unimpressive CGI bubbles and people dancing around in the Colorado River. All of this is set to a tune by the Dave Matthews Band. The packaging makes a rather big deal of the fact that this documentary features music by the Dave Matthews Band, much like Everest heavily promoted the involvement of Queen. As was the case with that film, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk offers only brief snippets of material from its featured popular musician, relying heavily on an original score by less well-known musicians for the majority of the running time.
Beyond these initial (and admittedly petty) complaints, I found the film to be reasonably enjoyable. If it's not as memorable or breathtaking as some of the other IMAX films, that's simply saying more about the other IMAX films than it is about the quality of this one. The film attempts to tell the story of the relationship between the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. It does so with reasonable success, demonstrating how the river has shaped and changed the details of the canyon over the years, and offering a discussion of the droughts that have slowly chipped away at the glory of the river. There's a rather elegiac tone to the whole thing, as it often seems to be softly mourning the forthcoming death of the river rather than leading an inspiring charge to preserve it (though an obligatory "save the river" speech appears at the conclusion).
Much like the way the recent IMAX film Super Speedway gave us a firsthand Indy race car driving experience, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk attempts to jack up the excitement quotient by offering us several POV sequences featuring rafts battling the rapids. These are reasonably engaging, but lack the sheer thrill they are obviously intended to provide. The documentary is most effective as an informational film, anyway. Narrator Robert Redford (along with help from, "my old college buddy Robert Kennedy, Jr.") serves as our tour guide, offering a steady balance between environmentally-themed sermons and expected peeks at the wildlife in the area (Gila monsters! Sandbars! Snakes!).
Most of these hi-def IMAX films have been blessed with superb transfers, and this one is no exception. The level of detail here is particularly impressive, as all the little nuances of the Grand Canyon are captured with majestic precision. Blacks are very deep, and colors are vivid and alive throughout. Sound is quite solid, though for some reason Mr. Kennedy's bits of dialogue seem rather distorted. Otherwise, music, sound design, and narration blend quite nicely. Predictably, the strongest sequences are the scenes in which the boats attempt to navigate the rapids. Though I'm not sure that the music of Dave Matthews is exceptionally well-suited to such scenes, they are nonetheless very immersive aurally. Extras include a decent little making-of documentary, a brief featurette about MacGillivray Freeman Films, and an assortment of trivia and fun facts. The disc is BD Live enabled.
Though there are numerous other IMAX films I would suggest picking up before this one, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk is worth picking up if you're generally inclined to purchase stuff like this.
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