Film Review: National Parks Adventure

IMAX survey of the wonders of the National Park system, with outstanding large-format photography.
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Starting with To Fly! 40 years ago, Greg MacGillivray has set a high standard for large-format cinematography. His latest production, National Parks Adventure, takes viewers through some 30 national parks and historic sites. It is a staggeringly beautiful film to help celebrate the National Park Service's centennial.

The IMAX movie sets out two goals: to show both how beautiful the parks are, and how fragile. MacGillivray enlists world-class climber Conrad Anker to take viewers into some of the most remote and spectacular areas of the parks. (Anker was a key figure in last year's documentary about climbing, Meru.)

Anker's road trips with his stepson Max Lowe and artist Rachel Pohl give MacGillivray and his crew the opportunity to explore the Devils Tower in Wyoming, the Redwood National Park in California, and the icy caves of Pictured Rocks National Seashore in Michigan.

Thanks to Anker and his companions, National Parks Adventure can show intimate details of wildernesses that most visitors could never reach on their own. But the film also warns how easily this cultural heritage could be lost.

As Robert Redford notes in the narration, some 95 percent of redwoods were cut down for lumber. If it hadn't been for President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir, the rest might have been lost.

Roosevelt and Muir bonded during a camping trip in Yosemite. The President's wife and mother had recently died (on the same day), causing him to write, "The light has gone out of my life." The effort to save and protect Yosemite and other national treasures helped Roosevelt to heal.

MacGillivray uses a panoply of movie technology in National Parks Adventure, from overhead wire dollies in a redwood forest to drones and handheld cameras. Time-lapse photography of swirling clouds and magnificent sunsets are especially impressive, as is the hypnotic aerial footage.

Musicians as varied as Bruce Springsteen, Jason Mraz and Brandi Carlile contribute to the soundtrack. Subaru, one of the film's producers, provides information about how to participate in its National Parks zero-landfill initiative over the closing credits.

MacGillivray has suggested in interviews that this may be his last project on 70mm film. National Parks Adventure sums up just what sets his work apart from other large-format movies—superb cinematography, matched by consistently strong writing, editing and soundtracks, as well as a smart, sensitive outlook.