There's a lot of heart in Rocky Mountain Express
A documentary by Stephen Low. Rated G.
Most IMAX movies are viscerally exciting, and many stimulate the imagination. The unwieldy technology and emphasis on spectacular places and big ideas, however, tend to shortchange emotional content. Rocky Mountain Express has all the usual bells and whistles (literally), but the sense of national fulfillment, coupled with tragedy and size-large nostalgia, ensures that heartstrings thrum as hard as any railroad tracks.
Directed by IMAX stalwart Stephen Low (Beavers, Legends of Flight), the 45-minute movie follows the hard slog of the Canadian Pacific Railway from the young country’s West Coast through the deadly coastal crags of British Columbia—only roughly charted by the 1860s—and into the Rocky Mountains and the relative flatlands beyond. (B.C. joined Confederation on the promise that it would be joined with the rest of Canada, and some people are still wondering whether or not that promise was kept.)
To make that journey today, Low strapped giant cameras to a restored locomotive from 1930, and the views are breathtaking through the Kootenays and Rogers Pass—also know as Rogers Folly, when it became clear how little intelligence the American surveyor had put into choosing it. Another Yank, William Cornelius Van Horne, was in charge of the CPR’s transcontinental connection, and, mostly through astonishingly vivid old photographs, we also learn something about the thousands of men—half of them Chinese—who died in harness before the last spike was driven, in 1885.
More stomach churning happens via the many aerial shots that put this daunting venture in vertiginous context, aided by aptly chosen music (but, sorry, no Gordon Lightfoot). This visual drama also reminds the viewer that there was a time when people rose to seemingly insurmountable challenges with a sense of daring that appears to be missing today. Sure, corporations are still in it for the money, but now most of their efforts go to keeping the status quo on hundred-year-old tracks.
Watch the trailer for Rocky Mountain Express.