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In memory of her late husband, the adventurer William ‘Bill’ Harkness, New York clothes designer Ruth McCombs Harkness (Maria Bello) sets off in the middle of 1936 with Chinese guide Quentin Young (Xia Yu), to prove that the Giant Panda is not the ferocious creature once claimed by game hunters, like Dakar ‘Dak’ Johnston (Xander Berkeley).

Review by Louise Keller:
Through the power and majesty of the giant IMAX screen, filmmakers have the ability to take us to extraordinary places, and immerse us as no other filmic experience can. Just like our journeys to Africa in Africa’s Elephant and the recent marvellous & unforgettable Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, the impact of the experience is often a combination of education with drama. With only 1,000 left in the wild, China: The Panda Adventure introduces us to those intriguing, rare creatures with the extraordinary markings, through a story about how the first giant panda was brought to America. Everyone loves the Panda and has a natural curiosity to see these astonishing creatures in the wild. American independent filmmaker Robert M. Young takes us to the panda’s natural habitats in a somewhat romanticised story through China’s rugged mountainous terrains and down exhilarating rapids with crystal waterfalls. Reed Smoot’s cinematography shows off the spectacular scenery and we get a real sense of the gentle nature of the Chinese people. Like Ruth Harkness, we can’t wait to catch our first glimpse of this unique member of the bear family. The scenes watching the cubs frolic in the trees and chewing constantly on bamboo are wonderful - they apparently consume 200lbs per day - and the moment when Harkness finally picks up the baby panda and cuddles it like an oversize ball of fluff is the one we have all been waiting for. These joyous scenes are too few and for my money, more emphasis should have been placed on allowing the pandas and the astounding scenery, than the dramatic elements and forced dialogue. But it’s an entertaining outing suitable for the whole family, and dazzles by its subject matter and majesty on the big screen.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If it didn’t feel so forced, it would be a great IMAX idea to dramatise this story for a 42 minute giant-screen, giant panda, giant experience. Trouble is, the format has to come first, and the demands of a dramatic film come a limp second. Not that it’s a bad film, but we do have to make too many allowances – and the payoff isn’t enough. On the plus side, there are some jawdropping shots of stunning Chinese scenery, ranging from forest to mountain to white water river. These alone are worth the ticket price, taking us into areas of China even intrepid travellers can’t access. It’s always a little distracting, though, to be thinking ‘how did they get that shot?’ and far too much of this film is lumbered with that. Of course, the upside of that is an awesome series of images that are simply breathtaking. Stick to the documentary format, folks – it pays off.

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CAST: Maria Bello, Yu Xia, Xander Berkeley (narrator - Bill Hayes

DIRECTOR: Robert M. Young

PRODUCER: Antoine Compin, Charis Horton

SCRIPT: Paul Andersen, John Wilcox, Jeanne Rosenberg


EDITOR: Jonathan P. Shaw

MUSIC: Randy Edelman


RUNNING TIME: 42 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: March 21, 2002 (other cities to follow)

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