The sixth in a series of ten films about rivers of the world, Grand Canyon Adventure is also the 35th large-format film by Greg MacGillivray, a producer, director and cinematographer whose work is rightly considered the gold standard for nature photography. The unique geological formations found in the Grand Canyon are ideal for large-format cinematography, and look even more spectacular in 3D. Equally important is the film's message, which delivers a firm warning about dwindling and mismanaged resources.

The narrative follows three parents and three daughters as they raft 250 miles through the Grand Canyon. They include anthropologist Wade Davis, author of a companion volume, and his daughter Tara; environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and his daughter Kick; and Park Ranger Shana Watahomigie, whose young daughter Cree accompanies her for part of the journey. A member of the Havasupai tribe, Watahomigie is currently the only Native American authorized as a guide on the Colorado River.

MacGillivray built his reputation with aerial photography, and Grand Canyon Adventure is perhaps most majestic in its helicopter shots, which traverse the canyon from rim to river, twisting around and sometimes through towering rock formations, and floating over breathtaking views of bends and waterfalls. Cameras mounted on rafts give viewers the experience of being on the Colorado River, in particular the thrill of navigating world-class rapids near Lava Falls.

Implicit in the excitement and adventure of this footage is the threat that the river might disappear. Already, dams control its flow, which is dependent on electricity usage in Las Vegas and other cities. Agriculture siphons off the largest share. Outdated irrigation techniques contribute to alarming and senseless evaporation loss.
A tour of Anasazi ruins and abandoned granaries is a vivid reminder of how crucial water is to our survival. MacGillivray uses 3D documentation from the pioneering expeditions by John Wesley Powell to contrast Jack Hillers' 1873 photographs with the present. Kennedy offers memories of a rafting trip he took with his father in the 1960s. The underlying message is grim: River levels for the Colorado are at historic lows, wildlife has disappeared, and the environment itself has been altered.

Young viewers may be too amazed by the whitewater sequences to fully comprehend the politics behind Grand Canyon Adventure, but no one can help but be sobered by the sight of the Colorado River reduced to a muddy trickle as it empties into the Gulf of California. The closing credits offer simple tips about water conservation and the plea for viewers to take a stronger stand in protecting rivers. Grand Canyon Adventure is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished in large-format documentaries.