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Producers have done marvelous things to help the IMAX giant-screen format break its association with Cinerama-like travelogues: fascinating investigations with micro-photography, breathtaking images of outer space, and documentary-like peeks at exotic activities like race car driving. With a slight aspect ratio reformat from 1.44:1 to 1.78:1, Blu-ray provides an excellent venue for IMAX films, communicating much of their grandeur to home screens.
Image's Amazon is a 1997 McGillivray-Freeman release that doesn't stretch the boundaries of the travelogue format. The 40-minute show is a succession of eye-popping HD images, but its attempt at a story doesn't add up to much and we don't learn much about the vast Amazon wilderness.
The show mixes a socially progressive agenda with an uninteresting fictionalized story. A shaman from a Peruvian tribe high in the Andes makes a trek to the Amazon jungle to obtain "rare medicinal cures" on a foot trek that by all rights should take two years (or be impossible). He conveniently stops by Macchu Picchu so the IMAX cameras can get some attractive shots; we feel like tourists looking out a bus window and checking off the site on our "to see" list.
The "story" compares and contrasts the supposedly unworldly Andean native with two men traveling the Amazon for other reasons. One is collecting rare wild-grown medicines, as pointed out to him by his local contact. We see shots of trees exuding sap, and leaves and berries being collected, but get no details about specific medicinal uses for the fauna, nor any information on what the collector is going to do with his samples, which he presses in newspapers. The narrator simply tells us that he's collecting them "before the rain forest disappears". As for the Andean shaman, he must be quite an internationalist because we see him simply gathering up what he needs at a Brazilian market. If he's so sophisticated, why doesn't he stay back in his village and order what he needs by mail? As it is, he's shown returning with what looks like a very small parcel of "magic medicine".
The third adventurer is a Brazilian dedicated to helping the few remaining isolated Indian tribes in the Amazon basin avoid cultural contamination by outside influences. He visits because he needs to document their (supposedly) idyllic way of life to get legislation passed to keep their lands off limits to outsiders and profiteers. He goes with them to contact yet another tribe rumored to live deeper in the wilderness. This is the only really interesting part of the human story; the natives wear large wooden piercing appliances in their lower lips and appear free of anything resembling outside influence. Amazon offers feel-good images of the explorer-activist being warmly greeted, without going into the pros and cons of whether or not the tribes are best served by remaining isolated. A couple of master moving shots show the "primitive" people performing rehearsed actions for the IMAX camera, casting doubt on exactly how "unspoiled" the tribe can be.
The bulk of Amazon consists of the basic wonders one expects from an IMAX journey to an exotic land -- terrific vistas of strange scenery, beautiful waterfalls and mysterious rivers. Cameras glide over the treetops and cruise down waterways with mirrored surfaces. Also on hand is a generous helping of dazzling nature footage. Jungle cats, tapirs and caimánes stalk the waterways and monkeys thrive high above in the rain forest canopy. Good shots of underwater life show fish leaping from the water to snatch bugs and spiders from above.
Linda Hunt is the prime narrator, with other theatrical-sounding voices representing the Amazon travelers. The format may be clunky and the educational value a bit slack, but Amazon delivers a bounty of beautiful images. The Blu-ray fans I know watch these shows once or twice and then keep them handy for HD demos when company turns up. Turn the sound off, and Amazon has a second life as interesting background wallpaper for an evening's conversation.
Image's Blu-ray of the IMAX production Amazon is an impeccable transfer with a choice of DTS and Dolby 5.1 tracks. Image quality is so sharp that we can count the leaves on branches in medium shots, and examine the fine details of insects.
The show's extra is a commemorative documentary / promo for McGillivray-Freeman films that gives an overview of the company's impressive output; I think it was McGilliivray that brought a 16mm surfing show to our landlocked San Bernardino high school in about 1969. They would later pioneer the creative use of IMAX.
Trailers appear for a great many more IMAX productions available from Image.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Amazon Blu-ray rates:
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