The IMAX films that try to avoid the educational trap usually end up trading one kind of visual grandeur for another (Fighter Pilots, now on IMAX!) by aping blockbuster thrills without really saying anything. Those that try to say things (Greece: Secrets of the Past) end up as a hodgepodge of geology, history, computer graphics and, of course, those airborne shots of geological formations. That is, they're pretty and informative but unstructured.
Wired To Win is another story. Although you could make the argument that it too could have been a PBS special -- and you'd be right -- it's the kind of PBS special that has enough relevance to warrant a little big screen time. A kind of meditation on the mental components of physical success, the film uses an upcoming touchstone, the Tour de France, as a way to get people thinking about the way our brains work in conjunction with our bodies to create athletic success. Yet Wired avoids being overly heady: The science barely scratches Neuroscience 101. This isn't college, though, it's IMAX -- and what we get is a surprisingly good primer on how many of the things we've been taught about our brains are wrong.
The film touches on one point of particular salience in a Western world that has, for so long, trumpeted rationality over passion. The drive to win, it reminds us, is essentially an emotion. The rational cost/benefit-analysis portion of your brain as you do 20 kilometers at a 10 percent grade through the Pyrenees, is actually working against you, telling you to quit. What's the possibility of a yellow jersey worth when weighed against the immediate end of pain? To the rational brain, not much. No, that thing our collective varsity coaches called the killer instinct doesn't work like that. Instead, it's a gut reaction that says, "I'm a winner, I want this, and I'm going to take it." It's a reaction that floods your system with endorphins and adrenaline and tells you to suck it up. Or, as narrator Alfred Molina puts it, "the battle of mind over matter is really a battle of mind over mind."
That's a deft little turn of phrase in a light little think-piece on the inseparability of the physical and the mental. Wired To Win doesn't break new ground, but it knows what it wants to say, says it well, and gets out of your way in less than 40 minutes. Oh, and it finds a way to make those gorgeous aerial shots of geology serve a narrative function. Which is a feat in itself. (Unrated)