The jungle of the Amazon basin is an amazing fount of diversity and
natural splendor, with the mighty Amazon river winding its way
through a variety of ecological zones and providing a habitat for
thousands of species, many still unknown to science. The short film
Amazon takes viewers deep into this mysterious world, but with
a different focus than the typical nature documentary.
Amazon focuses on the human face of the rainforest, showing
how it is the home to many diverse groups of people. The film's
narrative follows two healers who have come to the Amazon area in
search of new medicinal plants: one is a shaman from the high Andes,
and the other is an ethnobotanist from the United States, but though
they come from very different traditions, each is concerned with
finding new ways to cure disease and ease pain.
As we follow the path of the two narrators, we get to see the amazing
diversity of the rainforest, and come to appreciate the incredible
medicinal wealth that the jungle represents, with potentially
revolutionary cures and treatments in the plants and fungi that the
native tribes use every day. Viewers will come away from Amazon
with a sense of how important it is to preserve and protect the
rainforest, for a variety of reasons.
As befits an IMAX film, the cinematography is excellent, with many
captivating shots of the flora and fauna of the Amazon, as well as
the obligatory (but still beautiful) shots of the camera skimming
over the top of the trees and over a waterfall. In addition to the
more scenic shots, the film also takes an "up close and
personal" approach to filming the native tribes who are visited
along the way, so that we get a glimpse into the homes and everyday
lives of the people who live deep in the rainforest.
Amazon is a two-disc set, packaged in a single-wide keepcase.
The first DVD has the program and special features, and the second
disc has the program in high-definition format.
The image quality for Amazon is quite good, providing an
enjoyable viewing experience to match the lush images of the film.
It's not perfect, as there's some clearly visible edge enhancement
and a touch of grain here and there, but overall it looks quite nice.
What's really nice is that viewers can choose an
anamorphically-enhanced widescreen option (at the 1.85:1 aspect
ratio) as well as the 4:3 format typically associated with IMAX
films. My first question was whether the widescreen option offers
more image than the 4:3 version, or whether it was a matted version
of the 4:3 image. I'm pleased to report that the former is true. The
widescreen image contains all the same visual information as the 4:3
image, plus additional material on each side. Given that the framing
looks correct for both, I'd say that Amazon was filmed with
both the widescreen and 4:3 aspect ratios in mind, so both are
So which is better, the widescreen or the 4:3 image? If you have a
widescreen TV, the widescreen image wins hands down. The whole point
of an IMAX presentation is to "wow" the viewer: to present
a visually overwhelming experience through a super-large-screen
showing of the film. Since an eight-foot screen is hardly the norm in
anybody's home, the question is how well the "wow" factor
translates into home viewing. The widescreen version takes full
advantage of the wider field of view to capture the stunning vistas
that the film provides: it'll actually make you feel dizzy in some of
the aerial shots, for instance, whereas the 4:3 image won't have that
On the other hand, if you have a 4:3 TV, then the screen-filling 4:3
image will most likely be more impressive... though the widescreen
version remains a very attractive option since it "opens up"
the image with more visual information and, to my eye, a more
attractive framing. In any case, viewers have good options no matter
what shape their TV is.
The soundtrack for Amazon is excellent: in addition to a
generally pleasing richness and depth to the sound overall, the
surround channels are used very well on a number of occasions to
create a true sense of being immersed in the jungle. The music (which
hovers just on the edge of copying the theme to The Mission) is
integrated well into the soundtrack, rising and falling exactly as
appropriate to the scene being shown. The various voice-over
narrators are always clear and easy to understand, with a pleasing
natural quality to their voices. The winner of the three audio tracks
here is the DTS 5.1, but there's also a good-quality Dolby 5.1 and a
Dolby 2.0 soundtrack available.
Not much by way of special features is presented on the first disc:
just a short "MFF History" featurette that is a rather
muddled series of clips about the making of a variety of other IMAX
films, and a set of trailers for other IMAX films.
The second disc of the set has the complete feature in a
high-definition transfer. As there are currently no high-definition
DVD players, this version of the film is intended to be played on a
PC running the Windows XP operating system.
is a solid IMAX film, offering an interesting perspective on the
topic and beautiful cinematography to go with it. At 39 minutes, it's
obviously not an in-depth documentary, but it provides a nicely done
introduction to the Amazon peoples and the idea of ethnobotany. While
the inclusion of the second DVD with its high-definition
transfer strikes me as a bit gimmicky (how many people are going to
watch this on their computer?), it is certainly nice to see an anamorphic
widescreen transfer here. The DVD overall merits a "highly recommended."