For those who will never experience snowboarding, skysurfing or climbing 30 stories atop the world's highest sequoia trees, the new IMAX film "Adventures in Wild California" may be as close as you will come. Although brilliantly photographed and full of compelling stories, the film's stunning visuals are distorted on Orlando Science Center's circular screen, and the film crams too many subjects into its 40 minutes to allow the viewer to fully absorb each.
Made by the same team that produced Everest, their latest large-format work is a series of profiles of California adventurers from the 1800s to the present. Director Greg MacGillivray focuses primarily on nature and those who would test its limits. When skysurfers Troy Hartman and Joe Jennings drop out of a plane and ride the wind thousands of feet before releasing their parachute, we spin along with them, marveling at the view and getting a bit of motion sickness, too. We are also along for the ride when botanists scale the highest sequoias and then lower themselves into the hollowed-out center of these natural skyscrapers.
It seems as if MacGillivray and writer/producer Mark Krenzien are trying too hard at times to cover all outdoor stunts, but they also film activities that offer a needed rest from the spinning camera. They feature the conservationist work of biologist Peter Sharpe and show how he nurtures a baby bald eagle and then fools the mother into thinking she hatched it herself. Nautical researcher Sue Campbell's swimming excursion with otters is the film's cutest moment, even with Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash" as background.
The man-made wonders of the state play a role, as we join workers at the top of Golden Gate Bridge. Roy E. Disney talks about his uncle Walt and others who journeyed west, first in search of gold and decades later in search of Hollywood stardom. And what large-format film would be complete without a trip on a roller coaster, in this case Disneyland's Big Thunder Mountain.
But while MacGillivray's creation is exhilarating, much of its impact is lost because we yearn to concentrate on a particular setting for more than a few minutes before being whisked off to the next adventure. This film needs a more traditional IMAX screen, free of the distortions of the OSC's more rounded one. Those distortions and the rapid pacing make "Adventures" a fun ride but not a truly memorable experience.