Arabia captures an undeniably beautiful country
A documentary by Greg MacGillivray. Rated G. Now playing at the Omnimax Theatre
In many respects, IMAX movies are a throwback to the Cinerama productions of the 1950s. In each instance, the subject is almost always the natural world, depicted in a family-friendly way with the aid of images that are larger, colours that are brighter, and sounds that are clearer than your home-entertainment centre can provide.
At first glance, Greg MacGillivray’s Arabia would seem to fit this template perfectly. The curved screen is constantly awash with helicopter shots of vertiginous skyscrapers, long, slow pans of desert sands that might make even David Lean weep, and languorous tours of romantic wrecks on gorgeous coral reefs. On the other hand, the film feels like Saudi propaganda.
Am I suggesting, then, that this 40-minute “educational” production is an apologia for militant Islam? Far from it. This is because the overall image presented is the one preferred by the House of Saud, and part of that image includes emphasizing good relations with the United States and implying that this theocratic monarchy is essentially ecumenical at heart. There’s nothing the least bit reminiscent of Soviet agitprop here. On the other hand, the film will remind older viewers of those all-is-well travelogues that South Africa used to churn out during the apartheid era.
Still, although Arabia’s history might be highly selective, visits to Nabataen ruins are always enjoyable, and the mosques the IMAX camera explores are easily the architectural equals of any Gothic cathedral you might care to name. That Saudi Arabia is an extraordinarily beautiful country is undeniable, and this is a beauty that few of us will ever see .
On the other hand, it takes more than a 45-second admission that Saudi women are not quite as well off as Saudi men to convince at least one viewer that he hasn’t been, despite the heat, well, snowed.