Weekend Highlights

Published December 5, 2012
Going Places

A Parent’s Review: Rocky Mountain Express IMAX Film

by Taryn Zier
seattle child article photo

If your kids love trains, I have a great outing for your family: check out the new Rocky Mountain Express IMAX movie at Pacific Science Center, then hop over to Winterfest at Seattle Center and enjoy the turn-of-the-century village and train exhibit. You’ll likely hear your kids exclaim, “It’s engine 2816!”

Engine 2816 is the little engine that could, the star of the new IMAX movie, the mighty steam train that was resurrected and journeys along one of the longest and toughest railways in the world: the Canadian Pacific. In the film we learn how this colossal project, stretching from Vancouver to Montreal, came to be built.

The movie is G-rated and just the right length at 40 minutes. Some of the most memorable moments happen when the storytelling subsides and we get to enjoy leisurely footage of this mechanical wonder moving through space; gears going and steam puffing. I see why locomotive engineers claimed that each train had a personality. My kids got a kick out of these scenes, which also gave us a look at some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, such as Banff National Park.

Yet the accompanying story doesn’t leave quite as pleasant a feeling; it was a dangerous, nearly impossible undertaking to build this mammoth railway. There are some staggering statistics to prove it: after 20 years of exploration, there was no ideal route through the mountains. Difficult terrain could put the workers at a crawl for several years. When things got really bad, the laborers – many of them Chinese – laid only five feet of track a day and, sadly, workers died with each mile. Derailed trains and avalanches caused even more destruction.            

However, despite all of this the project persevered. In the film we gain insight into the interesting engineering feats tested and used during construction to get through the tough spots, such as spiral tunnels so that the trains made slower, safer ascents. My husband and 8-year-old son, an engineer and engineer-in-the-making, enjoyed the movie. The feats the workers accomplished through nearly unworkable territory made the story exciting for them.

“Is this real?” my 6-year-old daughter questioned toward the end of the movie. When I said yes, she exclaimed, “And that train is still alive? That is almost not possible!” I’m glad she was filled with awe from the story rather than lingering on the questions I was: were these deaths a necessary means to an end? Were the building plans riskier than they needed to be?

There were kids of all ages in the audience who did great with the movie on our visit. The only thing for little ones is that the train can be loud at times as it barrels down the tracks.  

There are typical concessions at the IMAX theater, so your family can indulge in popcorn, soda and candy if you choose. There are some new interactive games in the space outside the theater, so add some extra time for exploration after the film.

Some great IMAX footage of a steam train thundering through the Rocky Mountains, followed by a visit to the Winterfest trains, may be just the outing for your family this holiday season.

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If You Go...

Where: Pacific Science Center’s Boeing IMAX Theater, 200 2nd Ave. N., Seattle Center.

When: Daily showings, now through Jan. 3.

Cost: $9 adults, $8 seniors, $7 youth ages 6 to 15, $6 kids ages 3 to 5; free for kids younger than 3. Pacific Science Center exhibits cost extra.

Contact: 206-443-2001; www.pacificsciencecenter.org.