Canadian railroad thrillogy

Imax documentary Rocky Mountain Express evokes romance of A bygone era.

The Rocky Mountain Express is a Canadian thrillogy

Even without a soundtrack by Gordon Lightfoot, the Rocky Mountain Express does a great job of evoking the romance of the sprawling railroad system that knitted a very young Canada together over 100 years ago. Part history lesson, part travelogue and part mash note to a beautiful old steam engine, this film is truly a labour of love. Written and directed by IMAX veteran Stephen Low (Super Speedway, Titanica), Express took five years to make and is well worth waiting for.

Most British Columbians probably remember their Grade 10 history about how our province would only join Confederation if there was a railway connection between Vancouver and Central Canada. The narration for Express adds a lot of the details that most of us have likely forgotten, ranging from the sometimes-torturous route, the grotesque death toll (six fatalities for every mile of track) and the desperate business risk that the railway represented. In order to keep American railway competitors at bay, the decision was made early on to take the much more challenging southern route through towering mountain ranges where no pass had yet been identified … and might not even exist. That gamble nearly bankrupted the youthful Canadian Pacific Railway, but ultimately contributed to one of the most notable railway systems in the world.

As the protracted history of first the scouting and then the slow, dangerous and risky construction of the railway system unfolds via dozens of fascinating archival photographs, that lively historical account full of human drama and incredible feats of engineering is interwoven with a separate, present-day narrative featuring Engine 2816, a handsome steam locomotive that was lovingly restored over several years to make it ready for its starring role in this film.

A gorgeous black behemoth with gleaming, brass-framed dials and brutally powerful pistons, coal-powered 2816 belches clouds of grey-white smoke as it thunders along much of the historic route, from the Fraser River floodplain and the Fraser Canyon through to the Thompson River, Revelstoke, Field and finally the formidable Rocky Mountains. Nearly fetishistic close-ups of the engine room are contrasted with graceful images of the train chuffing its way through some of B.C.’s most beautiful scenery, shot from both onboard the train and from overhead with the help of a gyro-helicopter. If these postcard-worthy scenes don’t make you yearn for a carefree railroading holiday, you probably need immediate medical attention to see if you still have a pulse.

 

Rocky Mountain Express  ★★★½

Directed by Stephen Low

Starring Engine 2816 and crew

G – 40 minutes

Continues at the IMAX

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jen Hodge conducts an online concert during the pandemic after returning to B.C. from New York City. Photo courtesy Claudia Nobauer
Canada Recovery Benefit won’t replace the magic of live performance, musicians say

Cash will help, but its the audience connection that most performers miss — and crave

Mary Fox’s new book My Life as a Potter is available at bookstores nationwide. (Cole Schisler photo)
My Life as a Potter raises funds for Mary Fox Legacy Project

Acclaimed Vancouver Island potter’s story raising money for developing artists

Premier John Horgan and Rob Douglas, BC NDP candidate for Cowichan Valley, meet with Cowichan First Nation elders, as they demonstrate spearfishing along the river. (Submitted)
Horgan acknowledges A&E sector hit hard by COVID-19, but showing signs of recovery

Hollywood North doing better than Hollywood South, Horgan says

Online reservation service, First Table, allows Victoria diners to have dinner at half-price if they’re willing to be flexible about when they go. (Black Press Media file photo)
New reservation service allows Victoria residents to dine out at half price

First Table gives Victoria diners 50 per cent off when they book tables during off-peak hours

Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann will play the same piano at the Port Theatre on Nov. 1. (Photo courtesy Best Days Ever Photography)
Piano duo perform on one piano in Nanaimo return to live performance

Marcel and Elizabeth Bergmann present first live, in-person concert since March

Leaking Time by Oak Bay resident Ilka Bauer is the winning entry of the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Ilka Bauer Image)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

Can you spot all 12 Days of Christmas displays at the Butchart Gardens? Jen Blyth photo.
The magic of Christmas returns to the Butchart Gardens

Some events cancelled due to COVID-10 but 12 Days of Christmas will brighten the season

Gatineau artist Michèle Provost visits the Malaspina Galleries during her artist residency on Gabriola Island. (Photo supplied)
Gatineau artist the first to take part in new Gabriola Island artist residency

Michèle Provost to create art book reflecting on the positives of aging

Legendary Vancouver-based blues and jazz guitarist and vocalist Jim Byrnes will perform live at the Tidemark Theatre in a concert that will also be streamed. Contributed photo
Legendary blues musician and actor Jim Byrnes hits the Island

Playing Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre for a hybrid live/online show

Dinner shows in the Playbill Dining Room are keeping the Chemainus Theatre going during the pandemic. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Dinner events satisfying for the Chemainus Theatre and patrons

Small groups enjoy entertainment and the food in the Playbill Dining Room

Kent Laforme looks through the sound tunnel, or visual portal, carved inside the 25,000-pound marble sculpture that could be installed at Cattle Point. (Screen Shot, Oakbay.ca video)
Kent Laforme looks through the sound tunnel, or visual portal, carved inside the 25,000-pound marble sculpture that could be installed at Cattle Point. (Screen Shot, Oakbay.ca video)
Stone Takaya sculpture could soon ‘howl’ at Cattle Point

Oak Bay inviting public suggestions for 25,000-pound marble sculpture

Most Read