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Blu-ray Review: Tropical Rainforest

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I’m a bit of an IMAX junkie. Long before it became the home of blockbuster action/adventure movies, IMAX screens were usually found in science and natural history museums. (The first permanent IMAX theatre opened in 1986.) They were places to be wowed by breathtaking landscapes, seascapes, and even moonscapes visited vicariously through movie magic. The giant IMAX screen with all its extraordinary depth and the realistic sound coming from the complex of speakers placed around the theatre created an immersive experience, whether or not displayed in 3D.

The earliest “IMAX Experience” films were often nature documentaries; the IMAX cameras seem made for letting us experience the awesome power of nature and the intimate peeks into the tiniest life forms inhabiting the planet. Although not one of the earliest IMAX films, 1992’s Tropical Rainforest, to be released by Inception Media Group on Blu-ray July 12, is a still fairly early entry.

The 38-minute film, directed by Ben Shedd and narrated by Geoffrey Holder features music by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Taking viewers into the rainforests of Australia, Costa Rica, French Guiana and Malaysia, Tropical Rainforest presents a natural history of the rainforest ecosystem from their prehistoric to the threat deforestation poses to Planet Earth.

The IMAX camera beautifully captures the color and complexity of these fragile ecosystems, and the transfer to Blu-ray is excellent, from the fine detail of a spider’s web and the spots on a tiny insect to the sheer power of gigantic waterfalls. Newly remastered from the original IMAX film elements, Tropical Rainforest is presented in 16×9 widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1; audio is in DTS HD Master Audio 5.1.

The varied green hues of the rainforest’s plant life come across vibrantly as do the brightly-colored animals and insects. The colors on the Blu-ray transfer came across as saturated and rich on my high-def television. The film is beautiful to look at. The sound is crisp and immersive. Whether you are listening the chirping of a tiny tree frog or the thunderous roar of a tree felled by a logger’s chain saw, the sound is crisp and realistic. 

Unfortunately the film’s age is showing—not technically, but in the presentation of the material. Tropical Rainforest lacks the sophistication and drama of more recent IMAX and other high-definition nature films. A more recent film might draw you into a golden lion tamarind’s high-speed flight for its life or let us lie in wait with a deadly spider and stick around as it captures, then kills, its prey.

But Tropical Rainforest seems almost an exercise in showing off the technology of IMAX while teaching a dry, but important, lesson in environmental awareness. The camera never dwells very long on anything, so we get snippets—images and pictures with little opportunity to follow the journey of any one rainforest inhabitant. We learn very few specifics about the unique environment and inhabitants of the rainforests.

But the film’s biggest problem is the narration. Holder’s too-sedate delivery tracing the history of rainforest erases any the excitement we might feel watching what’s happening on screen. He never quite makes the tropical rainforest come alive.

The film has something to say, especially considering that its warnings about the collapse of the rainforest ecosystem are as relevant today as they were in 1992 (which, in itself is a sobering thought). Tropical Rainforest is a worthy and beautiful-to-look-at film, useful for educators and parents wanting present a brief overview of tropical rainforest natural history in a straightforward way.

The Blu-ray disc includes English, French, and Spanish language tracks as well as an IMAX trailer reel.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.