Ossus Library Index Non-Fiction Movie Index


Directed by Kieth Merrill (1997, MacGillivray Freeman Films)
Narrated by Linda Hunt, starring Jesse Corti and Mark Plotkin

The journey of two medicine men -one native, the other western, as they search for healing herbs along the Amazon.



3+ stars

December 23rd, 2000 on the IMAX screen

    The scenery was amazing, and it was really interesting to see the native ways of life, but the story that the movie was framed around was ultimately unfulfilling.

The idea for the story was a good one.  It compared and contrasted the visions of two medicine men, one from a native tribe, and the other from a Western scientific institution.  The native travels from the start of one of the Amazon tributaries, at a mountainous glacier, down to a city probably near the mouth of the giant river.  The scientist travels to individual pockets of native tribes in search of the secret healing properties of the rain forest.

The scientist played himself in the movie, but I was disappointed to see that the native was filmed as an actor.  The scientist interacted with other tribes in what seemed like unscripted encounters.  But I wonder how long the IMAX crew stayed up there waiting for the opportune moment.  Unfortunately, the scenes among the tribes did not seem to require the IMAX camera to tell their stories.  Gathered in low buildings within closely grown trees, there was not much that the IMAX format could do for them.

But the information was interesting nonetheless.  The fact that there are still people out there, in the heart of the Amazon rain forest, who have never seen outsiders, because they fled when the Spanish came to America, is amazing.  The natives have cures for many illnesses, most accompanied by rituals to give them power.  All are based on the incredible medicinal powers of the rain forest species, most of which are not catalogued.

The native medicine man was the most interesting, though.  He roamed along the river until he encountered civilization.  He went from tribe to tribe, trading knowledge and articles for supplies, trips farther down the river, interesting medicines, and shelter.  He participated in rituals that he may never have seen before.  Ultimately, he trades glacier water for some leaves that may offer a cure for diseases that have no cure in his village.  I really enjoyed the shot of the Inca ruins on the mountain top, but I wish they would have taken the shot when there were no tourists around.

The IMAX format was put to good use in the scenes where the forest or the river take center stage.  The producers put it to good use wherever they could.  The opening scenes take us on a wild ride along the river.  There are some eerie underwater scenes, which show off some native animals, including snakes (awesome on the big screen) and dolphins.  Insects abound, including all manners of spiders.  But the best was the foliage itself.  Panoramas of the forest, mountain valleys, and the river were breathtaking.  Unfortunately, there was not enough of it.  Waterfalls were aplenty, but the camera sailed right by them, refusing to linger where our hearts could beat a little faster at the beauty.

For all that the radio advertisement made this movie out to be, there was very little terror.  Besides the snakes and the cheetahs, there were no obvious dangers to spook viewers.  One of the native tribes split their lower lips so that they could place bones through the hole (the reason for which was never explained satisfactorily), and that was quite spooky in itself, but, like the ad for T-Rex, it was misleading.

A lot of effort went into this movie, and it was nice to see that.  A story framed the rain forest and the river, so that we were not looking just at scenery, and that was very much appreciated.  As interesting as it was, it did not use the IMAX format to full effect, and focused too much, I think, on the people.  To see that the medicine man finds his trophy leaves in a fair sized city (with cars and a large marketplace) was a little disappointing.


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