Riding the Rails

Filled with marvelous images of steam locomotives riding a treacherous track in the Canadian Rockies, this IMAX presentation ranks among the large format elite. Rocky Mountain Express is a vista-drenched tourist ride much as it is historical saga.

Adding gravitas to a now unimaginable construction project through landslide and avalanche prone mountains, the project carried endless hardships as it continued through the late 1800s. Deaths were numerous. While Rocky Mountain Express doesn’t shy from the reality – and honors those who perished – the visual scope provides a glimpse of why the railroad was critical. Politically important, yes, but also for the health of Canada as a whole.

Never repetitive or at a loss for engagement…

Narration romanticizes the steam engine. Cameras follow a restored vehicle from the 1920s, its contemporary journey cut together between historical stills to create a sense of place as the train moves forward. Never repetitive or at a loss for engagement, the sheer breadth of landscapes – some snow, some rivers, some forests – keeps the scope captivating.

At its peak, Rocky Mountain Express lets the train take over. Music slips away, allowing the grind of metal and hissing of steam serenade the journey. From the air, the mammoth train falls between treelines, identifiable only by a puff of trailing smoke. The sense of scale to this railway project is tremendous. Some of these shots are technical marvels too.

As with any IMAX offering this good, the only qualm is a restrictive and short length.

Rocky Mountain Express Blu-ray screen shot 1


Having done this critically for a decade, it’s rare being utterly wowed by a disc. This is a wow. Aside from minimal flickering (undoubtedly caused by the down conversion) these visuals stretch the format’s potential. Arresting scenery takes hold of trees, rocks, and faultlessly clean water while showing pristine fidelity. Natural texture pours from each shot.

In close to the train, small drips of oil and the sheen of old metal peers through from the film source. Nature takes over unused rock pillars from the construction process, covering them in moss and age. Mountain caps dazzle with their enormity.

Fleeting grain from the 70mm source poses no technical challenge for the Blu-ray. Images breathe freely with stunning contrast and density. When faced with miles of track to showcase from an aerial view, clarity will not budge. If only it were possible to shoot everything on 70mm.


With the camera set looking down at the wheels, engines begin firing in the low-end while steam begins to blow from the center surrounds. In Atmos or TrueHD 7.1, the mix is an active one. When silent aside from the locomotive’s sounds, the track sends out wonderful cues in the necessary channels, always taking camera position into account.

A rather hokey CG rock slide leads with enormous LFE support, and so too with an avalanche later. Debris rushes overhead and fills the soundstage. Strong stuff.


Two 1950s short films – fully restored from the National Film Board of Canada – make up the bonuses. Both cover the railroad construction in their own way, one a cartoon at 11-minutes, the other 21:20. Some IMAX trailers are it otherwise.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

  • Rocky Mountain Express
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Rocky Mountain Express presents an engaging historical look at the construction of this railway while celebrating its beauty.

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process. Patreon supporters were able to access these screens early, view them as .pngs, and gain access to exclusives.

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