Film tells story of rescue, aid efforts in Haiti

The giant Imax screen is an ideal place to see a lot of epic images, from eye-popping Hollywood blockbusters to scenic documentaries about people surfing in the South Seas, or exotic animals stampeding across the African veldt. In Rescue, the immense format is used for something different: a unique look at the equally enormous tragedy of the Haitian earthquake.

Director Stephen Low – whose big cameras previously captured such sights as the wet excitement of The Ultimate Wave Tahiti or the airborne beauty of Legends of Flight – followed the humanitarian efforts after the 2010 quake that levelled much of Port au Prince. From cameras mounted on helicopters, we tour a vast, heartbreaking scene of rubble, and acres of ramshackle tent cities, then move in for a few close-ups of some of the personal tales, such as a group of children who had legs amputated in a makeshift hospital and were flown to the U.S. for further care.

It’s an overwhelming sight on the Imax screen, a place that can magnify both the world’s beauty spots and, it turns out, its disasters.

If there’s any place that calls for heroic scope, it’s Haiti.

Rescue is just 45 minutes long – Imax movies come in bite-sized chunks – and the first half is taken up introducing us to the principals in its story: a volunteer fireman from New Jersey who will eventually rent a private plane and fly to Haiti to help; a helicopter pilot mostly involved in more mundane rescues, such as locating lost hikers; the female pilot of a huge U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane, a craft so big that it can drop a titanic earth mover out of its cargo bay, falling to earth under a bouquet of giant parachutes; and Peter Crain, commanding officer of HMCS Athabaskan, the Canadian destroyer that was part of this country’s relief effort.

The work of these people all involves aid in one way or another – Crain says the Athabaskan’s guns, which can be used to deter Somalian pirates, “leaves the bad guys with the right impression” – and the movie provides a quick, and sometimes vertiginous, survey of various rescues or firefighting training. The opening shot, of a rope dangling from a chopper into the water and extending in three dimensions above your head, sets the mood of dizzying danger.

But it’s in Haiti where the movie takes on its urgency, where the cameras find rescue crews digging survivors out of collapsed buildings, or rise in the air to see oceans of shattered concrete and tumbled buildings in Haiti’s capital.

Rescue only touches on some of the stories, but it serves as a salute to both the quartet of representatives we meet and to the rest of the world – the closing credits thank countries from Afghanistan to Venezuela for their participation – that rallied around. “It’s kind of the opposite of war,” someone says as we see an animated view of ships steaming toward Hispaniola.

Rescue is a serious movie that sometimes struggles to combine its world-of-wonder Imax views with the terrible sights on the ground (there’s just a glimpse of blood in a hospital consultation scene, but it’s enough). Like many Imax movies, it has a tone of uplift, but this time, it’s not the sight of baby elephants being reintroduced into the wild. It’s the closing shot of boats heading to Japan, where help is needed again.

Rescue is playing at the National Geographic Imax Theatre in Victoria.


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