Backpackers.com — Hollywood is big on backpacking adventures these days. With “Wild” and “A Walk In The Woods“ creating a palpable sense of excitement about nature (if not the best films to ever be made), it’s clear that the great outdoors is a valuable asset to American identity.
“National Parks Adventure” is another submission in the nature film category — albeit a much bigger one. Shot for IMAX by Gregg MacGillivray, a seasoned nature documentary film-maker and pioneer of many IMAX technical developments, “National Parks Adventure” strives to capture the spirit, image, and foundation of what Ken Burns (and many others) affectionately call “America’s Best Idea.”
Here’s the trailer to the film, which is available in select theaters across the U.S. and abroad now:
“National Parks Adventure” Reaches High
The film aims to do a lot, and succeeds in certain aspects — not so much in others. First, there’s the reenactment of the famous camping trip in which John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt meet in Yosemite, California to discuss what would become the National Parks of America. This is done as a History Channel-esque reenactment, and while brief, hits the main points of the agreement and instills the sense of forward-thinking conservation that both men are known for.
See a behind-the-scenes clip of this process:
Next is the modern-day story. The “stars” of the film are Conrad Anker, Max Lowe, and Rachel Pohl, all climbers, backpackers, and adventurers in their own right. The film follows these three (Anker is a real icon in the climbing world) through their exploration of the parks. Many reviews noted that while this story existed, it was fairly insignificant when compared to the grandeur of the National Parks themselves. And, as Ethan Gilsdorf wrote in the Boston Globe,
“The wrong turn in this ‘National Parks Adventure’ comes thanks to our sponsors: Subaru, Expedia, and REI. The underwriting is done in clumsy, even offensive ways, woven into a limp story the filmmakers have strung together: Let’s follow three gung-ho outdoors nuts from park to park!
Yes, they drive a Subaru Outback from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters — or, at least, to the Everglades. They camp in REI-emblazoned tents. They probably rented the car using Expedia.”
He didn’t love the film, but that’s OK.
While we’re on the subject of critique, one of our favorite publications, the Adventure Journal, noted the extreme lack of diversity in the film. Glenn Nelson wrote,
“…missing from the buffet, as usual, is the story of the parks’ future—the one filled with those diverse people who will not only enable the parks’ continued existence but, as the impending nonwhite majority in this country, provide the political, economic, and spiritual wherewithal to ensure the future of the planet.”
It’s a discrepancy in the field of backpacking, of outdoor recreation in general. How will the future of our National Parks look, and who will visit?
The third and most prominent feature of “National Parks Adventure” is, of course, the majesty of each site. MacGillivray is best known for capturing the physical beauty of a place on camera, and for this alone the movie is worth seeing. The only better way to experience the parks is, of course, visiting them yourself. Gregg says in this behind-the-scenes clip:
“[The National Parks] gives us a sense here in America, where we don’t have a lengthy history, [they] helps us understand where we’re going, give us a rooting in something that is forever.”
While the U.S. does not have as long a physical history as European and other cultures, the film comes out during the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the National Parks. It’s part of a collective effort by the outdoor community — corporations, government entities, and explorers — to revamp the interest and vitality of American’s National Parks. You can participate in Find Your Park, and prepare for the actual celebration on August 25, 2016.
“National Parks Adventure” is a film of adventure, remembrance, and reverence. Robert Redford — the apparent spokesperson of the wild these days — narrates, providing a sense of calm and wonder as each site is explored. It’s a chance to see the most iconic National Parks in dazzling cinema, and will make you want to get outside as quickly and often as possible.
Check for “National Parks Adventure” in theaters near you.
Featured screenshot courtesy MacGillivray Freeman, All Rights Reserved.