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Imax Takes a Semi-Contrived Trek to the Amazon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Amazon,” the latest Imax film from Oscar-winning filmmaker Kieth Merrill, is a stunning and at times awesome look at the mythic river and the people who live along it. Merrill’s strength is the visual, and both the panoramic and intimate shots of the river, rain forests, mountains and wildlife are breathtaking--even dizzying when viewed on the five-story-high Imax screen.

The narrative device that Merrill and writing partner Loren McIntyre have employed, however--following two medicine men, one Western, one indigenous, on their quests for ancient elixirs--is not fully developed and at times feels contrived.

Certainly the idea of a documentary about the search for cures to today’s diseases in the bountiful flora of the Amazon is a worthy one. But the quasi-documentary style is not a good choice.

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For instance, Julio Mamani, an Indian medicine man, is portrayed by an actor (Adrian Villanueva) and voiced by yet another actor. But the footage of Dr. Mark Plotkin, one of the world’s foremost ethnobotanists, is done as a traditional documentary. The two styles do not mesh well.

Also, we see both men talking to and observing shamans and medicine women and taking samples of various plants, but we are given sparingly few details about how the elixirs derived from these plants might be used.

The joy of this film is in seeing the sheer beauty of the unspoiled deeper areas of the Amazon and the rain forest and observing the simple yet efficient lives of the native peoples. Also exceptional is the score composed by Alan Williams.

And while the message about the importance of maintaining the rain forest and the ancient healing techniques of its inhabitants may be lost on the younger viewers, the fun of watching such exotic creatures as pink dolphins (one of the few freshwater dolphin species), three-toed sloths, jaguars and tapirs will keep most youngsters captivated. Indeed, seeing the more familiar parrots and monkeys in the Amazon rather than in the pet stores of the local mall may drive home an equally important lesson about leaving animals in their natural habitats.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: brief National Geographic-type nudity; one scene of hunting.

‘Amazon’

Adrian Villanueva: Julio Mamani

Dr. Mark Plotkin: himself

Sydney Possuelo: himself

Linda Hunt: narrator

An Ogden Entertainment presentation, released by MacGillivray Freeman Films Distribution Company. Director Kieth Merrill. Producers Jonathan Stern, Merrill. Executive producer Isaac Palmer. Screenplay by Merrill, Loren McIntyre. Cinematographer Michael Hoover. Editor Stephen L. Johnson. Music Alan Williams. Aerial photography Jack Tankard. Sound design Michael McDonough. Running time: 40 minutes.

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* Exclusively at the Imax Theater, Museum of Science and Industry, Exposition Park, Exposition Boulevard and Figueroa Street, (213) 744-2014; Ultrascreen Theatre, Ontario Mills Mall, Highways 10 and 15, entrance 3, Ontario, (909) 481-4442.


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