BMZ Review: China: The Panda Adventure
By Ross Anthony
Because of the three promising keywords comprising its title, the film-goer could rightfully expect to see a large format (LF) film chock full of gorgeous black and white pandas, complemented by the magnificent expanses and beauty of lush China, wrapped in some tantalizing tale of adventure. Unfortunately, only thirty percent of the film attends to these expectations.
In total, LF footage of Pandas accounts for about five to seven minutes of screen time. Though we trek through China for the duration, only perhaps another 5 to 7 minutes of the footage captures the spectacular. That's too bad, having been there myself, I know China has much more to offer in the way of sweeping scenes. In fact, the sheer size of the country and its landscape beg to be filmed in large format. As for the adventure, it's really more of a mild journey with a few contrived spills/wannabe-thrills.
So then, what makes up sixty percent of the picture? Answer: The historical (1936) story of Ruth Harkness retracing the steps of her passed husband while romancing the panda more in concept than the tangible. Not a totally uninteresting premise, but perhaps not one meant for the big movie screen. Gorgeously filmed, expertly lit, and rather impressively acted (for the format), this tale provides nearly no big screen drama and extremely limited big screen "moments."
Of course, a shot of a great panda munching on bamboo will no doubt steal your heart (as it did mine) and start you giggling; unfortunately, such instances are as rare as the panda itself.
Additionally, besides the trek following in the footsteps of so many other "journeys into the wild films," "Panda" also steps into the ugly bear trap of the evil hunter cliche. Worse yet, despite good acting, decent dialogue, and obviously skilled filmmaking, the picture cannot avoid an extended lull (no doubt, the greatest sin in a big movie). Such flaws could and should have been identified and eliminated in the scripting stage. Audiences do not go to LF films for the acting. We can tolerate a small percentage of "talking heads," but we are there for the sensory!
How else could "Panda" have been improved? Suggestion: Drop the history lesson. The tale hog-ties the filmmakers, preventing them from showing us what we want to see - sweeping shots of a country that could overload that huge screen with natural beauty. Give us our aerial shots! Why confine the focus to Ruth's linear passage or even to the panda's habitat? Show us China's splendors. There's no need to artificially recreate the stereotypical hunter for us to point fingers at. Show us the panda in the wild in all its glory! That should be enough to win our hearts. Certainly, pandas naturally have that allure, and these are professional filmmakers - I have no doubt they'd have nailed that goal. Then leave the message for preservation for the credit scroll narrative as done in this current version. As is, I find the heavy-handed message artistically inappropriate and to some degree insulting.
One other point of frustration: rather closely tied into the premise is the hypothesis that pandas might actually be tame gentle animals despite their reputation as dangerous beasts. This looming question kept me interested (in a non-large-format kind of way) when all else failed; however the picture never resolves the issue. Yes, we see Ruth rubbing bellies with a cub, but would momma bear be so docile? The film straddles the issue, avoiding a direct answer while seemingly implying anecdotally through pictures that pandas won't maul anyone. (Perhaps a gentle animal is an easier one to protect?) Further clouding comes from the press kit itself, revealing that the two cubs were actually raised in captivity.
All in all, "China: the Panda Adventure" recreates a simplified tale fit for TV, shows off a pawful of sweet pandas and offers up a tiny tea cup-sized serving of truly memorable China pans. Unfortunately, an experienced crew of professionals finds themselves bound by a script that should have never been approved for the large screen.
Interesting facts from the production notes:
Compin: "When pandas are born they are tiny, and weigh about 3 1/2 ounces. They are occasionally born in pairs but in the wild the mother would only raise one. In the Wolong Reserve's captive breeding program they take one baby away and share the rearing with the mother panda. They actually alternate the babies so each gets a week with the mother and a week with the breeders."
Horton: "The two baby pandas that we cast in our film were raised this way... half by the mother half by people. We didn't know that at two months the handlers remove both babies from the mother completely. The two babies that we filmed lived together and played together, but they hadn't seen their mother again until she was brought to us for filming. The handlers related to us later that they weren't sure how the mother would respond to seeing both babies brought back together, but she seemed just as thrilled as the handlers were surprised. So those scenes in the film where the twins are climbing all over their mother are actually from that real reunion."
Starring Maria Bello, Xander Berkeley, Xia Yu.
Directed by Robert M. Young.
Written by John Wilcox, Jeanne Rosenberg.
DP: Reed Smoot.
Produced by Antoine Compin and Charis Horton at World Wildlife Fund/Trane(C)2001.
Copyright (C) 2001.
Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit: RossAnthony.com
Agree/Disagree With This Review?
Additional BMZ Reviews of China: The Panda Adventure
China: The Panda Adventure by Herb Lash
Movie Reviews by Ross Anthony
To The Arctic 3D
Born to Be Wild
Sea Rex 3D: Journey to a Prehistoric World
Resident Evil: Afterlife: An IMAX 3D Experience
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: The IMAX Experience
Shrek Forever After: An IMAX 3D Experience
Iron Man 2: The IMAX Experience
The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest
Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey
The Ultimate Wave Tahiti 3D
Molecules to the MAX!
Avatar: An IMAX 3D Experience
Van Gogh: Brush With Genius
Journey to Mecca: In the Footsteps of Ibn Battuta
Mysteries of the Great Lakes
The Dark Knight: The IMAX Experience
Kung Fu Panda: The IMAX Experience
Shine a Light: The IMAX Experience
Beowulf: An IMAX 3D Experience
Dinosaurs Alive! (3D/2D)
Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs
Lions 3D: Roar of the Kalahari
Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure (3D/2D)
Greece: Secrets of the Past
Wired to Win: Surviving the Tour de France
Wild Safari 3D: A South African Adventure
Mystery of the Nile
Aliens of the Deep (3D)
Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets
Rolling Stones at the Max
Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag
The Polar Express: An IMAX 3D Experience
Roar: Lions of the Kalahari
Forces of Nature
Adventures in Animation (3D)
NASCAR: The IMAX Experience (3D/2D)
The Young Black Stallion
Volcanoes of the Deep Sea
Texas: The Big Picture
Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey
Ocean Wonderland (3D)
India: Kingdom of the Tiger
Straight Up!: Helicopters in Action
Coral Reef Adventure
Adrenaline Rush: The Science of Risk
Ghosts of the Abyss (3D)
The Lion King (IMAX/Giant Screen/Large Format Edition)
Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees
Treasure Planet (IMAX/Giant Screen/Large Format Edition)
Star Wars Ep. II, Attack of the Clones: The IMAX Experience
Santa vs. the Snowman (3D/2D)
Alaska: Spirit of the Wild
Africa: The Serengeti
Horses: The Story of Equus
Kilimanjaro: To the Roof of Africa
Australia: Land Beyond Time
Space Station 3D
Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West
Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition
The Human Body
China: The Panda Adventure
Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance
Ocean Men: Extreme Dive
Majestic White Horses
Ski to the Max
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure
NSync: Bigger Than Live
Journey into Amazing Caves
ALL ACCESS: Front row, Backstage, LIVE!
Haunted Castle (3D)
T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous (3D)
Wildfire: Feel the Heat
Encounter in the Third Dimension (3D)
Mysteries of Egypt
Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box (3D)
Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man (3D)
Michael Jordan to the Max
Adventures in Wild California
Features & Reviews Search
Features & Reviews by Category
- Jean-Pierre Jeunet's The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet™ Journeys Into IMAX® 3D Theatres In France Beginning Oct. 16
- Roger Pollock Joins IMAX as Head of International Film Marketing
- IMAX Corporation to Present at May Investor Conferences in New York
- New featurettes for Star Trek Into Darkness
- New poster for 300: Rise of an Empire
- IMAX® Signs Agreement With Edmonton Space And Science Foundation For Next-Generation Laser Technology
Latest Movie Reviews
- Ice is Nice By: Ross Anthony
- Space Junk 3D By: Ann Coates
- Dinosaur Passage to Pangaea By: Ann Coates
Get up-to-date information on new and upcoming big movies, the latest big movie buzz, multimedia clips, and the latest Big Movie Zone features.