Something for everyone would seem to be the theme of the 4th Annual IMAX Film Festival now underway at Riverfront Park. It's a grab bag for sure, according to a theatre official who says, "we are really trying to provide a variety of different films for audiences from kids to adults."
A few titles making their Spokane debuts including the 2001 releases Ski To The Max and Lost Worlds. But several others being heralded as "brand new films" on the theatre's website (www.spokaneriverfrontpark.com/ff-list.htm) are well within the realms of the classics. These include Alaska: Spirit of The Wild, which was nominated for an Oscar in category of documentary short in 1997 and the totally hand drawn, animated feature, Old Man And The Sea, which indeed became the first large format film to win that that same honor last year.
Of the truly brand new films, both are pretty good bets. One is Ski to The Max from Willy Bogner, the German skiing stunt man who has doubled for James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Here Bogner who has the incredible ability to ski and film at the same time takes viewers to the slopes in Alaska, and for high-speed runs in the Himalayas. Unlike similar efforts Bogner's ties the segments together with a plot line about girls and souped-up cars, car chases and spectacular explosions, and tells it all through the eyes of the buffed Canadian athlete John Eaves.
Granted neither the script nor the acting is going to win any awards, but the film is highly entertaining.
Lost Worlds, on the other hand, takes an almost completely sober tone. It's a cautionary tale -- directed by large format vet Bayley Silleck and narrated by Harrison Ford -- that takes a look at the ruins an ancient civilization deep in the Guatemalan jungle. The former inhabitants were possibly the highest evolved civilization of their time with strong evidence of agriculture, education, publican government and art. Yet the entire civilization vanished.
Drawing parallels to modern society's reckless disregard for the ecology, Ford's narration suggests the same societal attitudes may have spelled the kiss of death for this earlier people.
The obvious choice among the two Oscar-related films is Alaska: Spirit of the Wild, a solid natural history documentary that explores the beauty and harsh realities of nature in an extreme environment.
And though it is based on the Hemingway classic, The Old Man And the Sea is more of an artistic achievement then a watchable film. Animator Alexander Petrov hand-painted all of the 29, 000 images on seen on the screen. The technique gives the film the feeling of coming to life before one's eyes but it just gets wearying after the first five or 10 minutes and bogs down with dull-as-nails narration. The film has a bit of stoic charm, but it is an acquired taste.
Younger children may enjoy Ultimate G's, which sets out to inspire boys and girls to become aviators. But rather then treat them as intelligent human beings, the film works from a dumbed-down perspective. Even in its 3-D version, Ultimate G's has failed to find and audience in the US and was dropped earlier this year by its American distributor.
The placement of this selection grows ever more curious with The Magic Of Flight included in a package of 10 large format favorites returning for approval this week. The Magic Of Flight covers much of the same ground but does so with dignity and examples of real life female stunt pilots. One of the best among the returning group is director Kieth Merrill's Africa: the Serengeti, which drew some controversy when a group of museums demanded a censored version be provided to them, lest they shock children and offend teachers and parents with the films few moments of brief cultural nudity.
Others are evergreen and draw full houses whenever they screen: the epic Grand Canyon, the box office buster T-Rex with its drug induced time travel sequence and nicey-nice dinosaurs; the tragedy and majesty of Everest and The Living Sea with that now-famous soundtrack from Sting.
Also in the group are some real large format pioneers including MacGillivray Freeman's To Fly which is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its release and Speed, which came along shortly afterward.
The stinker award, if it must be offered, goes to the uneventful Wildfire, which inexplicably avoids it main subject with little footage of fires of any kind. It also holds the honor of being the film that put the kibosh on Discovery Pictures' large format operations.
And this just in as we go to press, the festival has just added the student produced short The Princess And The Pea, a charming fairy tale told in verse with a cast in old-western costumes. To call attention to the art of the large format show, the film's distributor is making The Princess And The Pea available free of charge to any theatre willing to show it.
The IMAX Film Festival takes place Aug. 3-10 at Riverfront Park. Tickets: $15 for three films; $44.99 for ten films. Individual ticket prices apply for individual films. $7 adults; $6 seniors; $ 5 children 12 and under. Call: 625-6686.