The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway stands among the greatest engineering feats in history. Rocky Mountain Express retraces the original route aboard the majestic steam engine 2816, transporting the audience back to the age of steam to re-live the nation-building journey.
After five years in production, the film had its US premiere at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, presented through collaboration with the Consulate General of Canada in Chicago, Travel Alberta and The Stephen Low Company. The event was attended by 180 people, including Chicago area media, transportation, museum board members, business and government leaders and local ex-pat organizations.
Canadian film producer Alexander Low attended the opening and participated in the post-screening question and answer session. Rocky Mountain Express was extremely well received, bringing some audience members to tears with the nostalgic look at Canada's rail history.
In 1870, a rail link from sea to sea was what was needed to make Canada a viable nation: a single line traversing over 4,600 kilometers and a mountain landscape so rugged and impenetrable few adventurers had ever crossed it on foot.
Tens of thousands from around the world laboured to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was an effort that engaged British investors, Canadian government financing, American engineering know-how and tens of thousands of labourers from across North America, from China and around the world. Many stayed and made this harsh, unforgiving land their home. Many others lie buried beside the track where they fell — killed in explosions, crushed by rock falls or smothered by avalanches. By the time the last spike was hammered in November of 1885, the railway had strung together some 800 communities along its transcontinental length. Then came the biggest challenge: maintaining and operating the railway amidst bridge-consuming fires, track-burying rock and mudslides, relentless snowstorms, lethal avalanches and continuing financial jeopardy.
The film weaves together spectacular IMAX aerial cinematography, breathtaking views of Western Canada, archival photographs and maps, and the energetic rhythms of a live steam locomotive: the Empress. Formerly known simply as Locomotive 2816, circa 1930, the Empress is now the only surviving H1b Hudson-type locomotive and one of only a handful of preserved and operating CPR steam locomotives in North America.
Rocky Mountain Express is the culmination of Stephen Low’s remarkable 30-year career crafting for the giant screen.
“There just isn’t a subject more perfect for the big screen than a giant steam locomotive,” reports the filmmaker. “This is a film I’ve wanted to make since I was a kid. Couple this with an epic nation-building story of engineering one of the most impossible railways in the world, and it was just something that had to find its way onto the IMAX screen.”
Rocky Mountain Express will be shown daily at the museum through to March 2012.
With files from the Stephen Low Company.