Film review: ROCKY MOUNTAIN EXPRESS, from ‘Built For Speed’

The IMAX documentary Rocky Mountain Express details the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the late 1800’s, a massive project that was and still is vital to Canada’s development as a nation.

The film describes how the erratic but ingenious railway entrepreneur William Van Horne sort a path through the treacherous Rocky and Selkirk mountain ranges that would allow the expansion of rail infrastructure across Canada. It was an astonishingly vast undertaking and he was racing against other rail companies particularly from the US.

Appropriately, the film emphasises the sacrifices made and brutal conditions endured by the thousands of railway workers who risked their lives digging and dynamiting their way through gigantic rock faces. The workers, many of whom were Chinese immigrants, faced freezing winters, boiling summers, avalanches and punishing work schedules. The film does, however, stop short of criticising the rail companies for exploiting these workers.

Most of the criticism is reserved for the determined but apparently misguided surveyor, Anderson who insisted that the rail line take a dangerous and expensive path through an almost inaccessible valley.

A particularly fascinating aspect if this documentary is the way it describes the inventive solutions engineers devised to overcome the complexities and perils of the Rocky Mountain terrain including gigantic tunnels and strange looping tracks.

The film makes superb use of the IMAX format with stunning aerial cinematography of the amazing Canadian landscape.

The film also features informative commentary from Michael Hanrahan and some fine music including a dramatic orchestral score and earthy folk songs including 500 miles by Peter, Paul and Mary.

Informative and entertaining, Rocky Mountain Express is not just for train spotters.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Documentary.

Classification: Exempt from Classification.

Director(s): Stephen Low.

Release date: 26th March 2015

Running time: 45 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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