Rocky Mountain Express (2011) Poster

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8/10
Rocky Mountain High
mlaimlai219 February 2016
Five years is a long time to release a film. That just happens to be the case with this IMAX documentary. After being released in North American cinemas in 2011, Rocky Mountain Express is finally going to be screened in Australian cinemas. It wouldn't have mattered if it was released in 55 years as it's a timeless story filled with inspiration and a triumph of the human spirit. It's an historical recount of the epic and arduous struggles to build the railway track across Canada which will appeal to trainspotting enthusiasts and anyone who likes a tale that promotes the mantra of mind over matter.

Stephen Low deserves credit for bringing this documentary to the screen for he has directed and photographed with precision. From the old black and white photographs of the people who built the railway to the interesting information presented about the ordeals they faced, there is a sense that he has spent a significant amount of time to research the archives. The steam train featured throughout allows Low to showcase the magnificent scenery that abounds. The overhead tracking plus the point-of-view shots he employs ensure that this is not only a documentary worth listening to, but also one that is aesthetically pleasing. There might be a few too many shots of the train itself but all can be forgiven when the rest of the documentary is so appealing.

There are no talking head shots for nobody is interviewed. The plight of many of the workers is sensitively handled in the narration while the script provides great insight into the many challenges that faced the construction of the tracks. The score is a beautiful combination of piano, violin and cello which effectively contributes to the varying moods of the documentary ranging from the exciting journey of the steam train to the sad reflections of the workers killed during the track construction.

If you have never seen an IMAX documentary before, Rocky Mountain Express would be a suitable introduction to this mode of entertainment. Trainspotters and IMAX enthusiasts rejoice to a documentary that informs, fascinates and entertains.
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8/10
The mountain journey of Canadian Pacific 2816
Laakbaar21 April 2012
In "Rocky Mountain Express" we follow Canadian Pacific 2816 (The Empress), a restored steam engine from the 1930s, along the CPR line through the mountains from Vancouver to Calgary in summertime. The viewer is treated to close-ups of the train's operation and views of the stunning landscape, consisting mostly of pristine mountains, passes and river valleys.

The film includes remarkable aerial photography of the train and the mountainous terrain through which the railway line passes. The IMAX thrill comes mainly from the aerial images, with the highlight being the fly-bys over the mountain tops. Interesting graphics are also shown occasionally to help the viewer map the geographic location and layout of the track. The movie included a rather nice rendering of "500 Miles" (an old Peter, Paul and Mary song).

Along the journey we're told the history of the construction of the track in the 1880s. This is illustrated by huge close ups of a number of remarkable old photographs. We're also shown the locations of other important historical events connected with the CPR line. The film succeeds in conveying how the construction of this railway was an engineering feat and an important event in Canadian history.

The film also shows how much human endeavour was involved. The only characters in this film -- apart from a few shots of the driver and maintainers -- are those in the close ups of the old photographs: the silent faces of the men posing in the wilderness. When blown up to IMAX proportions, those photos take on a life of their own.

The structure of the film is geographical: we follow the train as it travels from west to east. Along the way we're shown and told one tantalising and surprising thing after the next, mostly about the track's construction. In the end this film is merely a visual introduction to a huge subject. The focus is on the romance of the steam train, the beauty of the natural landscape and the old photographs, themes that can be shown well in IMAX and are suitable to all viewers.

By the end I had a lot of questions and wanted to know more, especially about the stories of the people involved. But this is only a 60 minute IMAX movie I suppose. It's up to other Canadian writers and filmmakers to explore these stories in more detail.

An enjoyable experience. Some IMAX films can be a little boring, but this is not one of them.
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