Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rocky Mountain Express

I could say the most remarkable thing about the new IMAX movie showing at the Clark Planetarium is that Marc stayed awake for the whole thing.
(He has this habit where he starts to yawn and relax when he sees a dark theater or a church pew.)
But the movie is so remarkable that it wouldn't be fair to knock it for a cheap laugh.
It's the story of the Canadian Pacific Transcontinental railroad built in the late 1800's and early 1900's across mountains and rivers and through solid granite.
The cinematography is spectacular and the music is gorgeous and somehow the filmmaker Stephen Low tells this dramatic and haunting story in 45 minutes.
The footage follows steam engine 2816, rebuilt for the occasion, as it moves on track laid across Canada with hand labor and black powder.
In some sections, only five feet of track was laid each day while an average of six men died for each finished mile of track.
At one time, 10,000 men were working on the tracks in their wagons precariously parked on the snowy granite mountainside.
The work was laborious, impossible and I'm not sure that it would be attempted today.
Crazy people were in charge and seemed determined to finish at whatever the cost in human life and cash.
Tunnels, 5-mile, 9-mile and 15-mile tunnels, were carved through the mountains.
Spiral tracks took the trains off the steeply pitched route for some of the time, making it possible to navigate.
The big, powerhouse steam engines chugged across bridges supported by mile-high trestles and stone pillars.
Avalanches, rock slides and the treacherous Selkirk and Rocky Mountains stood in the way.
Winter brought incredible amounts of snow and ice.
People died to make this enterprise exist.
Some engines derailed.
One blew up.
Most of them, though, plugged along steadily for hundreds of miles, opening up the West, creating tourism and connecting the country.
It makes for a brilliant, absorbing film that is very much like taking an actual ride on the train.
There's a sense of destiny, power and adventure in every turn of the wheel.
Plunging into dark tunnels and around the bends is exhilarating.
The show plays every day for a while at the planetarium and, right now, there's open seating until people figure out this is something there to see.
Climb aboard.
(You can see a trailer for it at:

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