It's fitting that I'd review IMAX's 1992 documentary Tropical Rainforest during a record-breaking heatwave...but like the high humidity, this film has a bad habit of making people uncomfortable. Essentially, this brief 38-minute production offers a quick history of the planet's tropical rainforests, including the diverse plant life and animal inhabitants. Unfortunately, it switches gears halfway through, reminding us about how horrible the human race is for cutting down trees. On one hand, it's a perfectly acceptable statement: yes, deforestation does affect the landscape and resources are not infinite. But it's equally as short-sighted (and in a way, ignorant) to assume that nature's fate is strictly up to the almighty Human Race. In short, I'd like to think that our planet is infinitely more resilient and durable than we are.
In any case, we're just splitting hairs. The root of the problem is that Tropical Rainforest just isn't that great of a production. The film should feel brisk and entertaining at just 38 minutes in length, but it moves along at a snail's pace. The documentary's awkward pacing earns some of the blame, at least after a few eye-catching scenes early on. But it's the narration by Geoffrey Holder that really slows everything down: he has an extremely odd delivery here, which lies somewhere between "tour guide for kids" and "creepy fortune teller". Either way, his words aren't exactly easy to follow...so during a number of scenes where the visuals aren't compelling, we've got nothing else to hang on to. It's not often that a potentially invigorating documentary falls flat, but Tropical Rainforest does on several occasions. Perhaps younger audiences might get a measure of enjoyment from this one, but it's definitely not for everyone else.
It's been almost 20 years since Tropical Rainforest debuted on IMAX screens nationwide, but this newly-minted Blu-Ray doesn't quite offer the level of support needed. The technical presentation is decent with a few complaints, while the bonus features are almost completely non-existent. The $20 price tag might look tempting, but there's simply not enough good material here to make Tropical Rainforest a recommended title for all audiences. Even so, let's take a closer look at what's included:
Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is good but not great. The visually lush environments feature a pleasing, natural color palette, but the image detail and black levels seem a bit lacking on occasion. Dirt and debris, as well as mild amounts of digital noise reduction, can also be spotted a few times. Don't get me wrong: a number of shots are quite stunning, but it's a shame that everything doesn't look quite as good from start to finish.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track (available in English, French or Spanish) is also a little hit or miss. Occasional atmospheric effects are strong and incredibly lifelike, while birds and other "background characters" also creep into the rear channels on occasion. As mentioned earlier, Geoffrey Holder's narration is the only disappointment here; it's a little buried in the mix at times and no Closed Captions or subtitles are included to help this problem. Other than that, it's tough to complain.
It's a shame that such a fascinating subject didn't get a better treatment, but IMAX's Tropical Rainforest just isn't that great of a documentary. The history and guided tour through these lush landscapes are decent enough, but the heavy-handed message kills every bit of momentum earned during the first 20 minutes. Geoffrey Holder's narration is also a major misstep: he just doesn't have a good narrative voice and it's more distracting than anything else. IMAX's Blu-Ray presentation offers a decidedly average technical presentation and no bonus features, making this half-baked production an easy on to pass up. Skip It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.