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So I watched an IMAX film. These films have a surprisingly low budget.
Not only that, but are surprisingly short by film standards. They could
pass for individual one hour programs without a flinch.
This one centers on a widow who travels to China to save pandas. She races against a man that propagates the error that pandas are dangerous. Seemingly he also has something to do with her husbands untimely death. And, of course, she wins near the end.
There are a couple of scenes where it was obviously filmed in front of a green screen. But its IMAX, they can get away with that. Plus I learned slightly! Yay! Overall, its average. Its bad acting is overlapped by a short script and descent plot. "C"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I found this film moving and enjoyable, more than some of the more
"documentary" style IMAX films. In the late 80's I saw an OMNIMAX film in
celebration of Singapore's 25th anniversary as a nation. Parts of it were
done in a narrative style, with a scene of the Japanese invasion of the
island in WW II particularly immediate, perhaps being as realistic and
"involving" as any scene I have ever seen in a war movie. It felt as if
invading soldiers were all around me, and I could almost feel real
have longed for more films that had actual characters interacting with
other using dialogue ever since, done in the more traditional style
of a documentary style with only narration.
"Wings of Courage" impressed me by using real actors, a notable director, and a standard dramatic approach to a story with real conflict. I found the same to be true with "China: The Panda Adventure" which has a plucky heroine, Ruth Harkness (Maria Bello, who is especially good) a stalwart and loyal hero, Quentin Young, and a plot and story line developed with fabulous vistas of China as a backdrop. The acting was overall quite good in my opinion. The usual goals of an IMAX film were met, to transport the viewer to places not often seen, and to do so with the incredible sharpness the format brings to a giant screen. Heck, the 2-D films almost look three-dimensional with all the apparent depth this format affords even without 3-D. There is still the tendency to compromise between a huge screen film to show scenic wonders, and a real drama with realistic interplay. The film does not always succeed with the later.
One user has made some harsh comments, such as that it has "awkward, wavy camera movements and the blurry, distorted projection", that it made me wonder if we were seeing the same film. I fear that he saw this in a theater that was improperly set up, or with the equipment out of order, for I did not see anything even remotely fitting his description. A key word here probably is "blurry", for a properly projected IMAX film will never deserve that comment. I also have to wonder if he was stuck in the first row or two, the only situation where "distorted" could apply, the back few rows are by far the best seats.
***** WARNING, POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH ********
The same viewer complaining about the technical aspects of the film was also critical of the scripting of the film. I don't think he was paying enough attention for the heroine is seen transporting only one panda out of China, and we do not see it locked in a "tiny cage", in fact we only see this baby panda in an open basket or in her own arms. Also, if one is following the plot, this panda was orphaned by the hunter, Dakar Johnston, and in terms of the problem usually present with this situation, it would have been left to die, whether in its own habitat or not, if not rescued by the heroine, Ruth Harkness. Additionally, the pandas were not considered an endangered species in 1936, the year in which the film is set. Perhaps this is the main point of the film, as narration over the end credits explains that by taking the panda to America, these creatures became better known to the entire world and ultimately protected. It is also explained that even "the bad hunter", Johnston, learns the error of his ways and stops hunting the pandas as a result. Do you really think The World Wildlife Fund would be in favor of a tale showing panda poaching as heroic ? Well, they are a co-producer of the film and I would guess also had a part in writing.
I found the cinematography to be generally gorgeous, with the lighting in the night scenes at the beginning especially interesting. It helped invoke the period in which the film was set (mid-30's). As usual, the exteriors with rushing river rapids and towering mist-shrouded peaks show the advantages of shooting such scenes in IMAX. Why is it that only in IMAX films do we actually hear dialogue with directionality, instead of the typical stage-center approach used now in almost all features ? In the 50's and 60's it was standard practice to pan the characters voices to place them in the proper place in the scene. This IMAX film uses this approach, even placing a voice in the right rear surround speakers when the character is placed there.
On the negative side, because this is a short film the characters do tend to be a bit stereotypical, without complete development. Perhaps Johnston ("the hard-hearted hunter") being the character in which this aspect is most noticeable.
i love IMAX films, and yes, they are judged by a different standard...that is because they are supposed to exploit the potential they have in virtue of the format...beautiful scenery, panoramic shots, aerial views...etc, etc,.. this film didn't do that so much because the focus was more on this Hollywood-style story, which i found a waste of time....not to mention the fact that the story is thoroughly romanticized. i would have loved more footage of the pandas and/or the Himalayas (the shots that WERE included made the film worthwhile). IMAX films should not try to pander to people who can't get enough of Hollywood...go to blockbuster for that junk!! the film about the Bengal tigers in India was far more impressive..
There are very few IMAX movies that i have not seen--and China:The Panda
Adventure (CTPA) is one of the best. i don't think most people go to IMAX
expecting to see a mainline Hollywood-like production. IMAX movies are judged differently, in my opinion. An IMAX movie should make the best possible use of the large-screen format, and the focus of the presentation should be on the visual. CTPA does this extremely well.
It's true that the acting is not outstanding, but i did not go to CTPA to see Robert Redford. i went to see pandas and the stunning scenery of China. i was not
The last IMAX presentation i saw was "Amazing Caves," and i was immensely
disappointed. If you had seen the trailer, you had seen everything worthwhile in the movie. And if that English scientist/diver/narrator said one more time how
important it was to find bacteria so she could "cure new diseases," i would have screamed.
CTPA is done with a deft touch, with good narration and dialog and, as i said, stunning cinematography. It's a treat for the whole family. The fact that there's a "story-line" is just icing on the cake.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Usually when I go to see IMAX movies I let a lot of things slide. After
all, one shouldn't really expect a captivating story, Hollywood-quality
special effects, and top-notch acting from this type of film. It should be
a worthwhile watch, as long as the movie does its best to be entertaining
while making adequate use of the IMAX filming and projection technology.
Unfortunately, CHINA: THE PANDA ADVENTURE doesn't bother to do
CHINA gives the entire IMAX viewing experience a bad name. Those who haven't seen any other IMAX movies will certainly be wondering what all the fuss is about. Unless, of course, they are too busy vomiting from the awkward, wavy camera movements and the blurry, distorted projection.
*** PARTIAL SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH! ***
The story, apart from being dreadfully boring, is full of inconsistencies and often tends to contradict itself. For example, our panda-chasing heroine expresses her deep concern for the cruel treatment of animals, only to capture the pandas and ship them to North America. Not only is she abducting endangered animals, keeping them locked in a tiny cage, AND separating them from the rest of their family, but she is also sending them to a completely different hemisphere of the world, where the climate and vegetation are both drastically different from what the animals are used to.
On the plus side, the acting is quite good, but since the actors are always at opposite sides of the projection, you'll have to resort to whipping your head back and forth between them in order to follow their conversation. This atrocious framing plagues the entire film, forcing even casual viewers to painfully crane their necks, scaling the entire screen just to see what the hell is going on.
Oh well, at least I got to see some cute pandas (and Maria Bella, who is also cute).
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