Ossus Library Index Non-Fiction Movie Index


Directed by Greg MacGillivray (2000, MacGillivray-Freeman Films)
Narrated by Jimmy Smits

Extreme sports and natural exploits show off the splendor of California.



3+ stars

February 17th, 2002 on the IMAX screen

    Entertaining, fun, energetic, but very fragmented. I had whiplash by the time it was over.

This plays more like a promotional video advertising California. We went through so many snippets of the extreme Californian adventures in such a short period of time, barely pausing to get an in-depth look at any one of them.

There were a few exceptions. The creators obviously liked the skydiving aerobatics, which opened the film. Flying high above San Francisco, a diver with a snowboard on his feet does really cool maneuvers, and comes to a graceful landing, with photographer in tow. The imagery was absolutely stunning, and the music very effective in portraying the energy involved.

The other plot that takes up more than five minutes of screen time involves the giant Sequoia trees in one of the valleys. Two climbers make their way up the gigantic trees, looking more like rock climbers than tree climbers! It was very interesting to note that they never damaged the tree, except for taking small samples. They used a rubber-tipped arrow (in a really neat crossbow shot) to shoot a monofilament wire around a sturdy tree branch. I suppose all the Sequoias have very sturdy branches. Then they thread a rope back through the branches, so that they can climb over. The same process is used to move from treetop to treetop. When traversing, the sight was amazing. It reminded me of a similar scene in the Grand Canyon from Amazing Caves, where there were no trees, but the climbers were moving from rock peak to peak! It became very intense when the climber found a gigantic cave within one of the trees, going back in time as he went deeper into the tree. Unfortunately, this is the one segment where the "looping" (the process where dialog is rerecorded because it was drowned out in the original filming) is really, really poorly done. I initially thought it was a voiceover, until one person started responding to it. Poor editing on their part.

Surfing those gigantic waves seemed insane to me on the Pacific coast, as surfers tried to gain the upper hand on those monsters, while looking out for the rocks that were responsible for the waves in the first place. No kidding that there are underwater caves in those formations, ready to trap surfers underneath! But the waves intimidated me by themselves! Trying to keep some semblance of continuity through this film, the producers then moved up the coast to a Monterey aquarium, where one biologist is helping an otter pup return to the wild. The otter was so cute, and had such a piercing gaze, as if it was looking right through us. Unsettling, is what it is!

A few minutes were spent with workers at the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, as they effected preventive maintenance. That was cool, and for some reason, it made me more apprehensive than the skydiving. But we didn't stay with them long enough to gather any depth. Just a novelty, then move on...

We spent some time with skiers and snowboarders (with a really cool acrobatic technique on the ski jumps), spent a few seconds on a car racetrack, took a roller- coaster ride at Disneyland (with a brief biography of Disney to try and give us some much-needed depth), paraded around some vineyards, rock masses and waterfalls, and helped a baby bald eagle raised in captivity to rejoin its mother.

And there was much more, but none of it was featured long enough to do more than impress us with either scenery, altitude, or daring. And all of that was amazing, even if we didn't stay long enough. The scenery reminded me of early IMAX films, which did little more than show off scenery, like in Blue Planet, The Dream is Alive, or Grand Canyon. The altitude, as with the Golden Gate Bridge sequence, reminded us of the effects of the IMAX screen, more than anything else, showing us why IMAX is so popular, for we can see detail so far away. And the daring is accentuated by the IMAX screen, as well, because we can experience it almost first-hand. All in all, the production was very impressive.

The other notable mention is for the music. As in all other recent MacGillivray-Freeman films, the music is a mix of popular songs and exciting instrumentals. And it really helps bring the movie to life, charging our emotions, enhancing the fast-paced scenes, and making the quiet ones more serene.

While not as good as more recent films, such as Amazing Caves, or especially Dolphins, this was a really impressive visual feast. But I'm sure a full movie could have been made on each of the snippets they decided to present to us. It's too bad the cuts between them were so jarring.


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