A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that, while preteens should benefit from this exposure to another culture, it's teens and adults who are best equipped to deal with the meandering story line and content surrounding herbal medicine and forest-canopy ecosystems. Younger children will likely see it as being too similar to classroom films.
What's the story?
AMAZON (IMAX) is a semi-documentary that follows Mamani, a tribal shaman, as he leaves his village in the Andes to seek new herbal cures and ingredients in a faraway market. Along the way he encounters and befriends strange tribes, beholds parts of the Amazon he'd never seen before, and ultimately trades his flute and some precious glacial water for the herbs and passage back home. Mamani (actually a fictional character, played by an actor) is paralleled by the real-life Dr. Mark Plotkin, an ethnobotanist on a quest of his own, who hopes that the ecology of the dense jungle around the Amazon and its scattered, insular human tribes will lead to the discovery of natural cures for mankind's most pernicious diseases.
Is it any good?
Amazon is a gorgeously scenic journey that sets sail with a promise to debunk pulp-fiction myths about the legendary river. There's a grainy clip of an old-timey Indiana Jones-type adventure, showing a white explorer fighting against hostile cannibals, killer crocodiles, and ferocious piranha. It's a great IMAX moment when the black-and-white stock footage gives way to the beautiful, hyper-real widescreen 70mm imagery of waterfalls, jaguars, Inca ruins, tramp steamers, and railroads winding through the mountains. One thing you can say about those grainy, black-and-white jungle adventures of yesteryear, though; they kept things simple. Amazon goes for a much broader picture of the region's history, culture, topology, animal and plant life (we may remember those swarming, carnivorous piranha, but pink dolphins are declared to be the Amazon's most famous aquatic inhabitants).
There's a lot of territory to cover, and the filmmakers try to do it by following the parallel wanderings of Mamani and Dr. Plotkin. But, by cross-cutting between the two men, as well as going off on tangents about the history of South American anthropological studies, Amazon tends to meander and fork off almost as much as the river itself. Still, it may inspire young anthropologists and junior explorers to find out more about the region.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ecological topics the film brings up. How do our behaviors affect what happens in the Amazon? Also, members of one South American tribe wear hanging hunks of wood pierced through their lower lips; families may want to discuss this and other tribal customs to further cross-cultural understanding.
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