Amazon Adventure 3D (2017)

A true story of scientific discovery

In this dramatized 3D IMAX film, director Mike Slee, Flight of the Butterflies (2012), and writers Carl Knutson and Wendy Mackeigan, The Water Brothers (2012-15), tell the epic true story of British naturalist and explorer Henry Walter Bates (Calum Finlay), who, in the 1850s, journeyed to the Amazon rainforest for eleven years to study undiscovered wildlife, in particular, new forms of butterflies. Eventually Bates’ work would come to the attention of famous evolution theorist Charles Darwin (Robert Daws), considered a radical at the time, who calls for his help. Bates then attempts to find evidence that could support Darwin’s theory of natural evolution, the investigation steering the course of scientific understanding forever.

Initially, the feature failed to grab me, seeing as it takes half the running time to lock onto an intention, namely that of evolution and the role Bates played in proving its possible existence. Up until that point, Amazon Adventure tends to meander as a loose adventure of encountering things, which, as spectacular as they are, don’t have the weight of importance as the latter discoveries. Essentially, the film tries to have it both ways by being at once an all-encompassing biography (which is too short, considering the eleven years that Bates spent out in the Amazon) and an enlightening look at the early days of Darwinism. I wouldn’t have minded with either direction, but as one 45-minute film, it’s far too compressed for whichever angle to completely satisfy.

Welcome to the Jungle

The central performance by Calum Finlay, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016), is frankly amateurish. Sure, he’s clearly game to be amongst the weathered elements and unpredictable wildlife, but he feels like a buddy of the director who wanted to star in a movie and is never quite convincing. It doesn’t help that the script calls for him to speak his mind out-loud in pantomime-like astonishment. It’s probably on-point for young students, whom this sort of film is really intended for, but anyone older is likely to roll their eyes. While Finlay isn’t around for long, Ed Birch, Their Finest (2016), tends to get the tone right as Bates’ friend and fellow researcher Alfred Russel Wallace, while Robert Daws, The Unfolding (2016), looks the part as Charles Darwin.

But hey, let’s be real here, the star is the Amazon itself and its many creatures. By the looks of things there must’ve been a wealth of opportunities and footage gathered during the production and, if what we’re seeing is meant to be the cream of the crop, it was certainly worth the trip. There are gorgeous waterfalls, enveloping canopies, curious insects and even a suspenseful leopard cameo. You’ll certainly get bang for your buck in this regard.

‘If a butterfly gets nervous, does it get humans in its stomach?’

In true IMAX style, the scope rendered here is big, bright and beautiful. The 3D cinematography by Gerry Vasbenter, Anti Matter (2016), is wonderfully deployed with all the detail and pop you’d come to expect from a native IMAX title. Vasbenter and Slee demonstrate a superb appreciation for the format, often using deep staging to great effect, which often lacks in other 3D features. One of the more subtle yet highly effective uses of this is a wide shot which sees Bates studying in his cabin during a rainstorm – you can actually see through the window, then the heavy rain, followed by the jungle, with clear separation between all the elements. It’s this kind of attention to detail that generally lacks in mainstream 3D releases.

As the title explicitly states, this is Amazon Adventure 3D and it delivers enough in this regard, making full use of the gloriously large IMAX format. Through celebrating the work of Henry Walter Bates, there’s a genuine appreciation for the development of science and natural human curiosity, making the brisk picture a good starting point for students learning about Charles Darwin and evolution theory. Other viewers may find it lacking in depth, but arguably that’s just another reason why IMAX is often paired with museums.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Steve Ramsie

Amazon Adventure 3D is currently playing at IMAX Melbourne, Australia