Paradoxically, the beauty and splendor of the Grand Canyon, so impressively showcased by Imax maestro Greg MacGillivray in his first 3-D venture, almost belies this docu's dire ecological message: The Colorado River, like much of the world's potable water supply, is drying up.

Paradoxically, the beauty and splendor of the Grand Canyon, so impressively showcased by Imax maestro Greg MacGillivray in his first 3-D venture, almost belies this docu’s dire ecological message: The Colorado River, like much of the world’s potable water supply, is drying up. Though the trip down the river turns up evidence of dropping water levels, these discoveries are upstaged by the exhilaration of shooting the rapids in 3-D. “Grand Canyon Adventure,” featuring Robert Kennedy Jr. in the Al Gore role of purveyor of inconvenient truths, opened March 14 in advance of World Water Day on March 22.

Pic charts an informal expedition that includes environmental activist Kennedy; anthropologist, author and explorer Wade Davis; their respective teenage daughters, Kick and Tara; and Native American river guide Shana Watahomigie (whose own daughter impatiently awaits being old enough to accompany her mother). Setup stresses the loss of America’s precious heritage, since the voyage mirrors Kennedy’s own childhood trip down the river with his father in 1967.

As Tara and Watahomigie dive off natural rock formations and splash in front of breathtakingly scenic waterfalls, Kennedy and Davis view stereoscopic photos from John Wesley Powell’s pioneering 1873 exploration, noting the mostly negative changes wrought in the interim by the construction of dams. Kennedy recalls the lush ecosystem of his boyhood, when otters, muskrats and now-extinct varieties of fish abounded (the only critters seen now a lone gila monster and a rattler).

Detailed graphs and illustrations, accompanied by Robert Redford’s voiceover narration, lay out the terrible cost of the worldwide water shortage. Docu makes a compelling case for the life-and-death necessity of water conservation, offering remedies from self-closing nozzles to more effective irrigation techniques, even while predicting worsening “mega-droughts” and increased demand in the very Southwest area the Colorado supplies.

Visually, however, pic presents scant pictorial evidence of devastation to counterpoint the grandeur of the canyon; the sight of a dry, cracked riverbed lacks the impact of soaring three-dimensional mesas. An Imax nighttime swoop over Las Vegas cityscapes registers less as wastefully garish than as fetchingly fantastic. Only the extensive ruins of a once-flourishing Anasazi village abandoned some 300 years ago (brilliantly rendered in perspective as Watahomigie moves through an infinite series of doorways) hints at the face of drought, and even that comes off as too picturesque.

Unlike MacGillivray’s 2003 “Coral Reef Adventure,” where vividly hued coral reefs were counterpointed by barren, gray masses of dead and dying reefs, here the looming ecological disaster proves less visible to the 3-D eye.

Tech challenges are daunting. Perhaps only the producer-director of “Everest” would have the sheer chutzpah to transport millions of dollars’ worth of heavy 3-D hardware through these most perilous whitewater stretches of the Colorado.

Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk

Production

A MacGillivray Freeman Films release of a Teva Presentation, with the support of Kohler, of a MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation production, in association with Museum Film Network, Reynders, McVeigh Capital Management, Waterkeeper Alliance. Produced by Greg MacGillivray, Mark Krenzien, Shaun MacGillivray. Executive producers, Chat Reynders, Chris Palmer. Directed by Greg MacGillivray. Written by Jack Stephens, Stephen Judson.

Crew

Camera (CFI color, Imax 3-D), Brad Ohlund, Greg MacGillivray, Jack Tankard, Ron Goodman (Spacecam); editor, Judson; music, Dave Matthews Band, Steve Wood, Stefan Lessard; sound designer, Tim Walston; supervising sound editor, Andrew DeCristofaro. Reviewed at Lincoln Square Imax Theater, New York, March 12, 2008. Running time: 43 MIN.

With

Robert Kennedy Jr., Wade Davis, Tara Davis, Kick Kennedy, Shana Watahomigie.
Narrator: Robert Redford.

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