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Grand Canyon Adventure 3D Blu-ray Review

I don’t normally gush in my reviews, but holy s**t I didn’t think 3D Blu-rays could impress me as much as IMAX Grand Canyon Adventure: River At Risk. My apologies if that was crass and over-exuberant, but this 3D Blu-ray release is destined to be a showcase piece for every single new 3D TV owner this holiday, and if it’s not already on your to-by list, here’s the link to order it right now.

Was that coming out of the gate a little too fast? Forgive me; I’ve just been on a high-speed whitewater trip down the Colorado River — while sitting on the sofa. Grand Canyon Adventure: River At Risk is one of three 3D IMAX movies that Image Entertainment is set to release for 3D TVs. While some people might not have heard of the studio or may have dismissed this documentary as something to overlook, let me assure you that you’ll not be disappointed with this outstanding 3D Blu-ray release.

The core of Grand Canyon Adventure: River At Risk is to provide insight into the plight of the Colorado River, describe how the American Southwest’s water-consumption patterns are depleting the River’s health and volume, and inform viewers how they can help. In a sense, it’s like a lower-profile version of “An Inconvenient Truth” or “Death of the Electric Car,” but filmed in IMAX 3D to really get people’s attention. And get your attention it will, documentary or not.

Grand Canyon Adventure 3D takes viewers on a 45-minute journey down the Colorado River, highlighted by trips through whitewater rapids but punctuated by cultural and historical waypoints throughout the Grand Canyon. From Anasazi ruins to Lake Powell to Hoover Dam, this 3D Blu-ray release covers the full range of Canyon-related experiences, all viewed through the lens of the Colorado River, its historical evolution and its deteriorating health. Fortunately for viewers, the Robert Redford-narrated film never delves into a preachy or pejorative tone, and it doesn’t have the “sales pitch” tone that so many environmental documentaries seem to have. Instead, it focuses on the adventure of floating down the Colorado River and through the Grand Canyon, presenting commentary and insight only as appropriate. And hey, it also never hurts to have the Dave Matthews Band piping through crystal clear via the DTS-HD 5.1 audio to help ease the mind a bit.

From the very beginning, you know you’re in for a subtly-messaged movie, but you also know the 3D effects are going to be outstanding. As I said in my Monster House 3D Blu-ray review, I understand the risks of getting to “cheesy” with extra 3D effects, but because the 3D TV technology itself is still so new and novel, it’s forgivable to add a little bit of Velveeta to the 3D mix. The Grand Canyon Adventure 3D Blu-ray adds this masterfully, working in some additional 3D effects without cheapening the overall experience. Generally, these added effects have to do (not surprisingly) with water.

It all starts at the 3D Blu-ray’s main menu, which revolves around an undulating glob of water. The water itself serves no purpose, nor do the tiny droplets hovering around it, other than to show-off the 3D effects via the active-shutter glasses. Sound silly? Here’s a verbatim quote from the person watching the movie with me: “I could just watch this damn menu all day and be happy.” But menus aren’t what make movies great, so we naturally moved on to the 45-minute IMAX film — only to be blown away even more.

I’m not one in a big-screen 3D theater to jump or cover my eyes when it seems like something’s headed my way, but the Grand Canyon Adventure 3D Blu-ray made me jump once — just once — when the 3D effects were so good that my brain momentarily thought I was going to get splashed with water from the front of the raft. Some of this was due to the aforementioned “cheese” effects, which obviously worked, and some was due to the movie being filmed natively in 3D IMAX, the challenges of which are explored in more detail in the 35-minute “Making Of” bonus feature. But what really makes the 3D effects so good in Grand Canyon Adventure is the very subject itself: a beautiful, diverse and dimensional Canyon, all filmed in high definition and from unique angles.

Every single shot in the film — whether it be on-river action, a scene of the travelers unloading the boats, or a static view of the anthropologist expedition leader sitting on the edge looking down onto the red rocks below — is setup in a way that there is always something in the foreground, middle and background. By staging scenes with natural depth, the filmmakers at MacGilivray Freeman ensured that the 3D IMAX and 3D Blu-ray experiences also had as much depth as possible. And they drilled it.

Only one camera angle in the entire 45-minute feature seems forced and troublesome: a shot of the boats going downriver taken when the camera was wedged between two rock outcroppings. The filmmakers succeeded in framing the shot, but in the process they made the rocks so close and dominating in the foreground that they come across as blurry, which ultimately detracts from the beautiful scene in the background. Other than that solitary instance, though, this 3D Blu-ray transfer is absolutely flawless and delivers one of the most realistic experiences ever presented on a TV screen.

Having watched such a gorgeous 3D Blu-ray documentary, it’s a bit of a letdown to watch the 35-minute “making of” feature, although more because of the 2D and non-HD presentation than because of its content. This feature focuses on two primary themes: how the Colorado River has changed (and been changed by) multiple generations, and how challenging it was to produce this film. The latter is particularly interesting, because while the Grand Canyon is a rigorous adventure for healthy individuals, it presented a serious challenge to a large group of people tasked with moving a 300-pound IMAX 3D camera down, through and around the Grand Canyon without scratching, dinging or otherwise breaking it.

Other bonus features include a Message from Teva (one of the movie’s sponsors), a Message from Kohler about water conservation, a Music Video by Tara (the anthropologist’s daughter, who’s also on the expedition), and the requisite movie previews and “About Director Greg MacGilivray” vignette. These are all marginally interesting, but the making-of feature is really the only one that offers much meat, and let’s face it: the chances of watching any of these bonus features is pretty slim anyway, when the 3D main feature is this impressive.

Before you start worrying that a documentary such as this will irritate even the most die-hard “red staters,” I must reiterate that Grand Canyon Adventure never ventures into “sales pitch” or “the world is about to end” mode. The messaging, though obvious, is presented tastefully and sprinkled prudently through an otherwise great excuse to watch your new 3D TV. If you’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, or even if you have and you’re unable to visit again anytime soon, this 3D Blu-ray release is undoubtedly the closest you’ll get to traveling to one of America’s greatest treasures from the comfort of your own couch. If you own or will soon own a 3D TV, this is one 3D Blu-ray you definitely don’t want to miss.

Click here to order Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk (Blu-ray 3D Version) from Amazon. You’ll get a killer deal, and you will not be disappointed.

Score: 10
Expletives can barely express the joy I had watching the 3D effects in this gorgeous IMAX movie.

— Jonas Allen

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