Words surpass images in `Twain’s America’

Mark Twain's America

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
July 2, 1998

2.5 stars

Spanning two centuries, the latest IMAX three-dimensional film, “Mark Twain’s America,” celebrates the puckish author through his own words, 3-D stills and re-enactments of historic events.

Director Stephen Low – whose last 3-D large-format film was 1995’s “Across the Sea of Time” – takes a loving look at Twain’s life in Hannibal, Mo. And the moviegoer gets the impression that Twain – a self-confessed champion of inventors – would’ve gotten a kick out of seeing himself in a 3-D film.

The author once said, “Inventions, to my mind, are poetry in steel.”

But the vivid re-creations of Civil War battles springing to life are less impressive than the imagery evoked by the purity of Twain’s prose. And as moving as some of the black-and-white 3-D archival photos are, they still have the feel of a children’s pop-up book.

With narration by an actor speaking for Twain, the film tries to bring moviegoers into Twain’s world of jumping frogs, majestic old steamboats and rumbling trains. But that world isn’t nearly as vivid as the one Twain – born Samuel Langhorne Clemens – created in his classic novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

At the screening I attended, viewers seemed to enjoy themselves. Some even reached out to “touch” the trees, trains and animals that seemed to be moving toward our faces.

But one small child shivered at the sight of a bearded Twain apparently coming toward him. Clutching his mother, he whispered, “He looks like an Ewok.”

Twain probably would have gotten a kick out of that comparison as well.

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