Usually, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is the place to see dinosaurs that once walked the earth and jaw-dropping heavenly bodies. But enough about Strom Thurmond and Demi Moore. The HMNS, like many of Houston's venues, is bringing in nontraditional exhibits and features to attract crowds who enjoy the museum only slightly more than the dentist's office. In that spirit, its Wortham IMAX Theatre is hosting two new cinematic features, both of which open this weekend.
In TEXAS: The Big Picture, viewers take an amazing journey across the Lone Star State through documentary, historical and atmospheric footage showcasing everything from the State Fair to deep canyons to tall city skyscrapers.
"It's no mere movie. It's the first giant-screen movie ever made about our giant state," says Tim McClure, the film's executive producer and screenwriter. "And Texas isn't just a state...we were a country, the Republic of Texas, before we were a state. It's a state of heart, a place that honors the truth but treasures the tallest of tales. And the people value hard work but also know how to have a good time."
Museum of Natural Science, 1 Hermann Circle Drive
Films open Friday, January 2; for showtimes, call 713-639-4629 or visit www. hmns.org. $7; $4.50 kids
The film's nonlinear storytelling is similar, McClure notes, to tales spun around a campfire. The stories are accompanied by visuals ranging from static shots of a horse stampede to a sequence of downtown Houston streets enveloped in a freakish fog. Our city is also represented by a fast-motion sequence of cars on the city's highways -- unrecognizable to any actual Houston commuter, of course, in these days of endless construction projects and lane closures.
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The film's narrator is native Texan and former Survivor contestant Colby Donaldson, squeezing the last three seconds out of his 15 minutes of fame. We suppose Anna Nicole Smith was unavailable.
And though the crew traveled a total of 10,000 miles to capture footage -- "As much of the grandeur and magnificence that the budget would permit," McClure says -- the director admits to missing some crucial highlights of the state's story: Tex-Mex food, fishing and sports other than high school football. More than 75 locations were visited for the film, which clocks in at just under 40 minutes.
"Maybe it will be time for Texas: The Big Sequel," McClure adds, perhaps momentarily forgetting one of filmmaking's great truths: The sequel is rarely as good as the original. Caddyshack II, anyone?
The other film opening at the museum is awash in the weepy tears of the lap-steel guitar. Our Country: The History of Country Music traces the parallels between the music's development and the nation's social and cultural landscape from the early 1900s on. Its real strength is in the specially shot IMAX footage of contemporary performances by Dwight Yoakam, Alan Jackson, Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Daniels and Lyle Lovett (whose "That's Right, You're Not from Texas" happens to be the opening song of TEXAS: The Big Picture). Loretta Lynn, Vince Gill, Alabama, Dolly Parton and Trisha Yearwood are just some of the other featured artists. Hal Holbrook narrates, presumably an easier task than dealing with his wife, Dixie Carter of Designing Women.