Two IMAX Documentaries
Arabia: A Story of the Golden Ages (July 28/14)
Less a documentary than a promotional tool, Arabia: A Story of the Golden Ages offers a cursory, perfunctory overview of the Middle East's culture and history. Filmmaker Greg MacGillivray's terminally less-than-cinematic style ensures that Arabia: A Story of the Golden Ages alienates the viewer right from the word go, as the movie feels like the sort of video one might watch at a tourism center for visitors to the region. MacGillivray compounds the film's thoroughly uninvolving vibe by offering up a series of amateurish (and unnecessary) reenactments, with the inclusion of such moments perpetuating Arabia: A Story of the Golden Ages' superficial feel and ensuring that its 40 minute running time often feels much, much longer. MacGillivray's slapdash treatment of hot-button issues within the Middle East (eg the subjugation of women) certainly doesn't help matters, while the filmmaker's inability to offer up any compelling or cinematic images is, given the movie's IMAX presentation, nothing short of disastrous. (Compare, for example, the depiction of Mecca here with its mesmerizing appearance in Ron Fricke's Baraka.) It's ultimately impossible not to wonder just which demographic Arabia: A Story of the Golden Ages has been designed to appeal to, as the movie brings absolutely nothing new or interesting to the table and seems unlikely to hold one's interest even when viewed on an enormous IMAX screen.
Straight Up: Helicopters in Action (July 30/14)
As promised by its title, Straight Up: Helicopters in Action offers 40 minutes of helicopters engaged in a wide variety of situations and scenarios - with the film, for example, boasting a hair-raising rescue of a young woman trapped in an avalanche and the pursuit of speedboat-travelling drug runners across the Atlantic ocean. Filmmaker David Douglas has infused Straight Up: Helicopters in Action with an almost excessively earnest feel that grows more and more tiresome as time progresses, as the movie's by-the-numbers execution ensures that viewers without a previously-existing interest in helicopters will find it difficult to care about any of this. It's clear, then, that the film's borderline passable atmosphere is due to its admittedly striking visuals, with Douglas offering up a production that's rife with images and sequences that fare surprisingly well on the small screen. (There's little doubt that the movie would benefit substantially if viewed on a full-size IMAX screen.) And although Douglas' continuous reliance on amateurish reenactments is unfortunate, Straight Up: Helicopters in Action does feature one or two unexpectedly engaging moments - with the most obvious example of this a sequence detailing one man's attempts to repair electrical wires in a South American jungle. Ultimately, Straight Up: Helicopters in Action stands as a fairly pointless little documentary that never quite manages to justify its own existence - with the movie as guaranteed to thrill aficionados of the title aircraft as it is to leave neophytes scratching their heads.