Published July 1, 1998
Mark Twain’s America written and directed by Stephen Low is the latest in IMAX 3-D and illustrates that basic critical principle, the law of the inverse relationship between the sophistication of a film’s technique and the quality of its content. The feeble idea on which this movie is based is that you can relate various events in Mark Twain’s life to people alive today who are doing similar things. Thus there is a old guy who builds and drives replica steamboats, and another old guy who builds and drives replica steam trains and a whole bunch of guys (and gals) who re-enact Civil War battles. Their relevance to Mark Twain is that he once drove steamboats and rode on trains and fought, for two weeks before deserting, in the Civil War.
The film includes little snippets from MT’s witticisms or wisdom, such as that there has “never been a just or honorable war—but there some things worse than war itself.” Uh huh. Or, on journalism, “first you get the facts, and then you distort ‘em any way you please.” Naturally there is a lot about the “native criminal class” of Congress, now that the Republican congress in our own time is here to kick around. But the fact that the film opens with the July 4th festivities in Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri is the most telling thing about it. Like the local Twain industry, the movie is essentially nothing more than a tourist trap.