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Image Entertainment presents
"Today, like most rivers of the world, the Colorado River is in trouble."
DVD ReviewThe continuing series of highly enjoyable MacGillivray Freeman Imax films represent a curious mix of travelogue, "message" film, and scripted short. The filmmakers have covered nearly every corner of the globe—the Alps, the oceans, Greece, the Nile, the bayous of New Orleans—as well as subjects such as flight, speed, and dolphins.
These films typically run about 45 minutes or so, and via the massive Imax experience provide a thrilling, up-close-and-personal adventure, featuring breathtaking vistas and the kind of cinematography to make even the most jaded viewer go "wow, that looks cool." A few of these had been issued on standard DVD in the past, but with BD the opportunity is here to come about as close as one can get to the stunning Imax clarity and scope.
Naturally, wrapped up in all of the amazing cinematography that has become a MacGillivray Freeman trademark, there's a clear cut environmental message, and we're shown in no uncertain terms how the sprawling Colorado River—specifically on its pass through the magnificent Grand Canyon territory—has been dramatically impacted by what is referred to as "short-sighted engineering solutions." Noted photographer, author, and anthropologist Wade Davis (The Serpent And The Rainbow) takes part in an expedition down the Colorado, along with his 17-year-old daughter Tara, celebrated environmental activist Robert Kennedy, Jr. and his teenage daughter Kick. The team is led by a sturdy local guide—Shana Watahomigie—who blends Native American history and an ancestral relationship with the river to not just teach them how to navigate the rapids, but to point out how important the river has been over the centuries.
Robert Redford is given front cover prominence as narrator, but like Meryl Streep in MacGillivray Freeman's Hurricane On The Bayou, he's really just there as a celebrity bookend. Wade and Tara Davis do most of the heavy narrative lifting, buoyed by the presence of a number of Dave Matthews Band tunes that play as the cameras deliver one stellar vista after another. There are stunning waterfalls that look like they should really be in Tolkien's Rivendell, alternating between nerve wracking journeys down some of the canyon's turbulent white water rapids, and these adventures help sell the biodiversity message as director Greg MacGillivray looks at how local dams have mucked up what nature seemed to be doing perfectly well on its own for centuries and centuries.
Yet for the recurrent water conservation theme, at its heart Grand Canyon Adventure: River At Risk is there to astound visually, and it does that with ease. Many of the aerial shots are so endlessly breathtaking that it's hard to fathom that scenery like that could possibly exist somewhere in this seemingly overcrowded country. These MacGillivray Freeman titles all have a knack for creating jaw-dropping, large-scale moments, the kind where the real world is shown in a way that our normal human eyeballs could never capture.
And it looks spectacular on Blu-Ray.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The AVC-encoded 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a winner, sporting the sort of exceptional clarity and rich colors that the BD format can really convey. This is a beauty of a transfer, one that can easily make viewers feel like they're looking out a window. Despite being often filled with an understandably rocky and tertiary palette, there are frequent eruptions of water (CG or otherwise) that the transfer renders beautifully, be it dirty brown or bright blue, and all levels in between. And those vistas look absolutely immaculate.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The primary audio track is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The highly-touted Dave Matthews Band music that peppers the soundtrack is rarely played in its entirety (if that's important to you), and often fills the rear channels while narration or voices fill the front. The music, both from Matthews and the Steve Wood score, is used to good effect, especially during the film's final moments, and the timbre and depth of the instrumentation and vocals sounds wonderful via the DTS-HD mix. There's a dominant LFE channel, both for score and sound cues, as well. Expected elements—such as the rush of water—fill all channels with a swirling, encompassing sensation that helps to put viewers on one of those rafts navigating the rapids.
A French 5.1 dub is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
11 Other Trailer(s) featuring Coral Reef Adventures, Journey Into Amazing Caves, Magic Of Flight, The Living Sea, Mystery Of The Nile, Greece: Secrets Of The Past, Hurricane On The Bayou, The Alps, Dolphins, Super Speedway, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
Extras Review: Extras consist of a half-hour making of, a moderately interesting non-HD chronology of this adventure, and A History of MacGillivray Freeman Films (07m:37s) that covers their 40-year history, and serves as a teaser of sorts for their other, similar titles. There's a promotional/ecological message from Teva, and a silly "water saving tips" game courtesy of Kohler, as well as the opportunity to Sample the Film Soundtrack, which in this case means listening to either Lava Falls or Grand Canyon. And then there's Tara's Music Video, a fairly uneventful song called Water, performed by Tara Davis and her band Engine Room
Also included is onscreen text-based content, such as a trivia game about the film, a bio about director Greg MacGillivray, info on a companion book, and an array of Colorado River/Grand Canyon facts. The big plus are the 12 MacGillivray Freeman trailers, all presented in HD. It's a globehopping set of travelogues, from the Alps, to Greece, to oceans, to caves. The disc is also BD-Live ready, as if that technology is really something of any merit. Not.
The main feature is cut into 18 chapters.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsIf you're looking for a neat way to show off your new Blu-Ray player for less than $20, pick up this MacGillivray Freeman release. The audio and video transfers are about as good as it gets for the format, and though the film seems to repeat itself a bit, the overall BD experience is a winner.
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