No need to bet your bottom Sacagawea dollar on it: Given that Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West (at the Loews IMAX) was produced by National Geographic and sponsored by Eddie Bauer, the flick’s grandiose, guardedly p.c. take on the advent of manifest destiny is a foregone conclusion. Meticulously re-created and impersonal as the elements, the movie’s less a history lesson than a set of commemorative postcards.
In fairness, IMAX films necessarily hinge on spectacle, and Great Journey West manages several beauts while dashing through the Louisiana Purchase. There’s a truly staggering buffalo stampede and a brief moonlit shot of the Rockies—clutching at the night and seemingly infinite—that hammers home the enormousness of the explorers’ task. By and large, though, the filmmakers are content to sweep via helicopter from one unspoiled-wilderness tableau to the next, cramming as much U.S.A. as possible into the large-format frame. It’s the fable of expansion, with Jeff Bridges narrating. Trouble is, Lewis and Clark (as evidenced by the movie’s brief journal excerpts) lived it rock by rock, maintaining their spirits via discoveries small as well as great. Too bad they’re almost always in long shot. Predictably, the expedition’s reliance and effect on Native Americans is underlined or elided where convenient—likewise the instability of man’s grip on nature. A detailed address of such concerns would be at odds with Great Journey West‘s bold-stroke aesthetic; the prevailing impression is of having missed the trees for the forest.