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by Jay Seaver

"A big job on the biggest screens."
4 stars

I wondered, when watching "Rescue", whether I was seeing a movie that came together in darkly serendipitous fashion or the work of particularly nimble filmmakers who were able to quickly get some amazing footage and then get background. It doesn't really matter, of course, but an IMAX movie is a complicated undertaking, and the aftermath of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake doesn't need more complication.

As it turns out, per the website, they were already filming Canadian destroyer Commander Peter Crain when the earthquake happened, so they already had a contact when his HMCS Athabaskan was dispatched to the scene. There, they met Steven Heicklen, a contractor and firefighter from New Jersey who was working with a volunteer organization on the ground; it's likely also when they met USAF Captain Lauren Ross and Nevada Army National Gard Major Matt Jonkey (she flies cargo planes, he helicopters). Of course, the film doesn't present it that way - we're introduced to those four and their regular jobs, and then when the quake happens, it appears we're following them to Haiti.

That's not exactly deceptive, just good creation of a narrative. And that strong sense of story does help make "Rescue" a particularly compelling IMAX documentary; the audience has a sense of these people before they spring into action, and they're all quite likable folks. To a certain extent, Heicklen stands out in that he's not military and his passion has a different flavor than the others' calm professionalism, but all are admirable folks whom the audience feels they can count on almost immediately. The audience gets to see a lot of good done without having villains injected into the mix.

The picture itself is, as it so often is with IMAX productions, remarkable. I saw this screening at a domed IMAX theater, and while the aerial scenes might have had a slightly bigger wow-factor in 3-D (the film is playing in all three types of IMAX venues - domed, 3-D, and flat 2-D), the clarity and detail of this film shot on large-format film is amazing. It is one thing to see televised news footage of a natural disaster, but in this format we can see it in both scales simultaneously: The massive, seemingly-endless damage that stretches to the limits of your vision as well as the individuals affected, who don't just become blurry ants in the big picture.

The clarity is sobering, especially when the audience sees what might be the money shot of an action-adventure movie, a church collapsing before our eyes. It's awe-inspiring and also terrible, and lets us know that even once the movie is over and the subjects go back to other things, there's still going to be a lot of work to be done.

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originally posted: 07/16/11 03:22:40
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