Director Greg MacGillivray has perfected the art of the under-an-hour Imax documentary, as evidenced once again by “Dream Big: Engineering Our World,” a stirring 42-minute celebration of the creative minds concocting our tomorrows. Apt to be most at home at science centers and aquariums nationwide, MacGillivray’s latest exploits the large-screen format to breathtaking effect, providing gorgeous panoramas of natural and man-made wonders as well as intimate snapshots of men and women using their wits to achieve amazing feats. As far as such slight projects go, the film proves a rousing, and ravishing, call-to-engineering-arms for future generations, and should receive a welcome reception from its young target audience.
As with last year’s “National Parks Adventure,” “Dream Big” wastes little time on set-up, operating — from its opening moments — as a to-the-point treatise on its chosen subject. In this case, that’s the field of engineering, which MacGillivray views as a noble and enriching endeavor that benefits both those who practice it, and the planet at large. Narrated by Jeff Bridges in his inimitable drawl, the film casts those who build, design, invent and construct as pioneers who harness the “power of imagination” in order to “enhance the human experience.” And it immediately visualizes such notions via a rapturous 3D tracking shot out of, and then around, the International Space Station, a monument to innovation and collaboration that’s allowed us, for the first time in history, to actually see our world.
That stunning intro sets a suitable stage for the following action, which jumps from downtown New York City to the Great Wall of China to Nepal, where engineer Menzer Pehlivan travels with a group of colleagues in order to research earthquakes so that she might build more quake-resistant buildings in her Seattle hometown — a vocation driven, originally, by her childhood experience suffering through a quake at age 13 in her native Turkey that left 45,000 dead. Like the rest of the film’s profiles, Pehlivan’s backstory is only brief addressed. Yet the director’s quick brushstrokes nonetheless convey the way in which engineering is born from common, universal experiences and, consequently, how it can help affect the entire global population.
“Dream Big” crafts an engaging portrait of people seeking answers to contemporary and future questions, be it how to construct a bridge over a Haitian river that costs numerous locals their lives every year, or how to make sure that a stratospheric Taiwanese residential tower doesn’t buckle under the force of typhoon-grade winds. In doing so, the doc conflates the individual with the collective — and illustrates how engineering isn’t just about math and science; it’s also about ingenuity (as with a team of high-schoolers that competes against MIT hotshots at an underwater robotics competition).
Fundamentally, the film is also about artistry, as underlined by MacGillivray’s consistently striking visuals, which utilize Imax’s outsized dimensions, heightened clarity and superior 3D effects (often foregrounding old news footage amid enveloping CG backgrounds) to reconfirm technology’s capacity to push boundaries, open eyes to new vistas, and inspire others to embrace, and chase, heretofore unimaginable dreams. Bolstered by sturdy computerized sequences and a rousing pop-song-populated score (led by Matisyahu’s “One Day”), it’s the sort of majestic educational film that every adult will want their child to see — and, in all likelihood, will want to see themselves.