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Sacred Planet

Respecting Mother Earth should never be as dull as watching "Sacred Planet," a repetitive, globe-hopping Imax project that dresses up well-known ecological truisms with pretty nature photography. The idea is to listen to the words of indigenous people stressing the wisdom of their pre-agricultural lives, but once the thesis is stated in the first five minutes, the insights are over.

Cast:
<B>Voices:</B> Arapata McKay, Tsaan Ciqae, Mae Tui, Cy Peck Jr., Mutang Urud. <B>Narrator:</B> Robert Redford.

Respecting Mother Earth should never be as dull as watching “Sacred Planet,” a repetitive, globe-hopping Imax project that dresses up well-known ecological truisms with pretty nature photography. The idea is to listen to the words of indigenous people stressing the wisdom of their pre-agricultural lives, but once the thesis is stated in the first five minutes, the insights are over. Giant-screen lensing impressively ventures off into the wildest of hinterlands; once there, alas, it’s all about simplistic pictorials. Tyke viewers may enjoy the exotic mammals and insects, but pic should garner only average Imax circuit numbers.

Producers and filmmakers Karen Fernandez Long and Jon Long seem to have traveled a mile wide and an inch deep in this eco-tour, though one good choice was selection of Robert Redford as narrator for the type of project he might well have commissioned himself. Essential themes of fragility of ecosystems and ancient native peoples, as well as interconnectedness of human and natural realms, are among Redford’s long-held concerns, and he easily delivers pic’s narrative text with conviction.

A generic montage of helicopter, tracking and static shots of the wild sets a mood of distinct but familiar beauty, accompanied by (English-only) voiceover comments spoken by unidentified indigenous folk. A sudden cut from sylvan peace to fast-motion shots of congested Bangkok is meant to send a shock, and this basic structure informs the remaining 40 minutes. Any vet viewer of Godfrey Reggio’s oeuvre on technology vs. nature will feel they’ve already been here before.

Pic’s travels, per graphic titles, begin in the U.S. Southwest, proceed to Namibia, Thailand, British Columbia and Southern Alaska and finish in the dense Borneo rainforest. There’s an appreciable variety to the geography and climes in each region that lends a basic visual range — from northwest Arizona’s red-soiled Canyon de Chelly, for example, to the Thai jungle highlands.

A crucial thematic point is that pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer groups surviving to the present all embrace the same notion: The Earth must be treated with a light hand so it can be a sustainable source of life. While it is remarkable that the same idea is commonly held, repetition of this thinking by a parade of nameless native people is uninteresting, while pic’s ethnographic fuzziness — no details of specific tribes, either practices, social customs or or beliefs — has the unintended effect of making these real people into exotic objects set up for picture-perfect poses.

The only real excitement here is the occasional on-the-spot shot of nature in action — a bear gamely hunting for fish or a group of monkeys plunging from treetops into a river. William Reeve’s lensing is expert, but seldom creates more than postcard views.

Sacred Planet

Production: A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a New Street/Allied Films production. Produced by Karen Fernandez Long, Jon Long. Executive producer, Jake Eberts. Directed by Jon Long. Screenplay, Karen Fernandez Long, Jon Long.

Crew: Camera (CFI color, Imax 70mm process), William Reeve; editor, Jon Long; music supervisor, Androo Mitchell; sound, David Benade, supervising sound editor, Mark Wright; assistant directors, Jason Isley, Robin Mounsey, Eric Thein, Bob Coakley; casting, P.J. Connolly, Phyllis Decker. Reviewed at Loews Cineplex Universal Citywalk Imax Theater, Universal City, April 17, 2004. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 46 MIN.

With: Voices: Arapata McKay, Tsaan Ciqae, Mae Tui, Cy Peck Jr., Mutang Urud. Narrator: Robert Redford.

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