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Alex Stroup, editor

Sacred Planet

Disney's Earth Day movie brings “environmentality” to IMAX

Thursday, April 22, 2004
by Alex Stroup, editor

Sacred Planet wears its mission in its title. It isn't a coincidence that Disney's new IMAX feature is being released today, on Earth Day.

Unlike last December's The Young Black Stallion (review), this one is more like the nature documentaries that come to mind for most of us when we think of IMAX movies. There is no narrative story here, and if you wanted you could just ignore the narration and spend 45 minutes enjoying the pictures of places you'll probably never get to.

© Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Partners Jon and Karen Long took their camera crew around the world in an effort to show places and people that still live a “traditional lifestyle” in balance and harmony with nature. And therein lies the message of this movie.

Visually the serenity, calm, and beauty of such traditional lifestyles is juxtaposed with time-lapse imagery of crowded and hectic cities, and we're asked to wonder if perhaps it isn't time we stopped to take what lessons we can from such people before they've disappeared completely.

Just as it is impolitic to rant against the silliness of the idea of Santa Claus on Christmas morning, it would be impolitic to argue the assumptions of this film on Earth Day. But try as I might, the cynical part of me can't help but wonder about the wonderful technology that went into telling us how traditional people live in balance with nature and might we not want to slow it down a bit. Perhaps I was still overwhelmed by the IMAX introduction that assured me I was about to experience the most technologically advanced theatrical event currently possible.

Also, having been to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona recently, I couldn't help but see the bias in showing me the traditional Navajo elder telling stories at the campfire, but not the pick-up truck he drives to and from his small farm; or the Church's Chicken and Wells Fargo Bank a few miles away.

This is definitely a preachy film, but has beautiful pictures to back it up. There is no attempt to create a structure, or introduce the specific people narrating the film. Instead it is broken into several geographical segments. For each, a native elder (or his interpreter) narrates and gives his philosophy about nature and our place in it. While this is going on, the screen is filled with a hodgepodge of scenes from within that geographic area (which can be pretty diverse), but without specific definition.

The only reason I knew one set of scenes was Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, was because I've been there myself.

Robert Redford, sounding like he had a bit of a cold, narrates the opening and closing sections, but otherwise all the talking is left to locals, and a decent soundtrack (mostly New Agey stuff) suffuses it all.

While nothing you see in Sacred Planet is particularly unique (you could see much of the same stuff watching a lot of Discovery Channel and Animal Planet), it is always impressive to see it on a huge screen. And while it is intended to be disquieting, the time-lapse photography of city bustle is visually stunning in its own way.

If you particularly enjoy nature films and could spend a couple hours happily flipping through old issues of National Geographic, then you might want to take the kids to this for a pleasant afternoon out.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Alex here.


Sacred Planet is a Walt Disney Pictures release.

Wide theatrical release: April 22, 2004 (Earth Day).

Directed by John Long.

Narrated by Robert Redford.

Genre: Documentary.

Rated G.

Running time: 45 min.

Alex's Rating: 6 out of 10.


Alex Stroup is a degreed librarian with an undergraduate degree in history. An avid reader, movie buff, and devoted “information junkie,” Alex currently lives and works in the Northern California Bay Area. Alex is also the CEO of MousePlanet.

Click here to contact Alex.


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