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Thursday, April 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

'Sacred Planet': beautifully filmed but banal

Special to The Seattle Times

Upon hearing that Robert Redford narrates Disney's new IMAX feature, "Sacred Planet," my initial thought was, "Native American or environmental issues?" Turns out: Both. The 45-minute film takes us to five pristine places around the world and includes voiceovers from the indigenous people who live there and who all share the same basic environmental message of living within, and not using up, nature.

It opens today, Earth Day, at the Eames IMAX Theater at Pacific Science Center.

IMAX films are usually reductive because 1) most are made for children, and 2) complex subjects have to be stuffed into a short format. So a key question is often, "How is this IMAX film reductive? Are animals anthropomorphized? Is a facile story line attached?" Neither, thankfully, here.

Instead there's this. Remember how philosopher Joseph Campbell compared the world's mythologies and extracted similarities? In "Sacred Planet," we are told that the native cultures of five sacred places — the American Southwest, Namibia, Thailand, Borneo and the Alaskan coast — share the same basic values. It's these values that feel reductive, if not New Agey.

"There is spirit in everything," one village elder tells us. "All life forms are interconnected," says another. "The forest does speak to us," says a third. It's less like experiencing the diversity of the world and more like attending a garden party in Wallingford.

Movie review


Showtimes

**½
"Sacred Planet," narrated by Robert Redford. Directed by Jon Long. Written by Long and Karen Fernandez Long. 45 minutes. Rated G. Eames IMAX Theater at Pacific Science Center.

The photography is generally beautiful, with trees shot from below and cloud formations passing rapidly overhead. We are shown wonderful panoramas where the earth bends, and melting ice floes that reflect the exquisite light blue of the water.

I'm a sucker for animals — show me a tiger prowling in the jungle and I'm a kid again — and "Planet" has them in abundance: sidewinder snakes in the desert; giraffes, zebras, gazelles and ostriches, all galloping away from the helicopter that is filming them; elephants, octopi and whales, oh my.

Bears are another favorite, and "Sacred Planet" shows one splashing after fish in Alaska, and then, denied, walking around on its hind quarters in confusion at this turn of events. In Borneo, we see a frog beautifully silhouetted against a leaf, and a group of monkeys taking high dives into a river and emerging on the opposite bank. If there is a purpose to their actions, we can't fathom it, but it sure looks fun.

In between locales, we get shots of city life, sped up, which contrasts with the rhythmic flow of nature. Yes, it's life out of balance. Yes, the idea is stolen from the 1983 documentary "Koyaanisqatsi."

The film ends with footage of laughing children and, on the soundtrack, Ziggy Marley singing a rather unfortunate song called "We Are One." More noble universality. It left me craving a little messy diversity.

Erik Lundegaard: elundegaard@comcast.net

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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