In 1971, Bruce Brown (with help from Steve McQueen) released On Any Sunday, a documentary about the then-fringe world of motorcycle racing. It was a momentous film, receiving an Oscar nomination and helping make motorcycles more mainstream. In 2014, Brown’s son Dana (with help from Red Bull) released On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter, which examines the state of motorcycle racing today. The tech on display (both the motorcycles and the filmmaking equipment) is more advanced, and the racing segments are thrilling, demonstrating the technical skill and dangers involved. The film lacks the artistry of the original, however; where Bruce Brown’s film was willing to track McQueen as he bounces across sand dunes, a whimsical organ piece playing in the background, The Next Chapter turns everything up to eleven, with pumping drum-and-bass and frequent jump cuts.
Pink Floyd’s The Wall is a legendary album, made famous by hits like Comfortably Numb and Another Brick in the Wall, as well as marking the start of the band’s decline due to internal conflicts. Bassist Roger Waters was largely responsible for the direction and songwriting of the album, and his solo tour from 2010-13 represents probably the last time it will be performed in its entirety. Roger Waters: The Wall captures the grandiose performances from that tour, where Waters traded the psychedelic imagery from the original performances of The Wall for striking visuals that evoke contemporary political issues, such as financial corruption and terrorism. Age has not dulled Water’s musical talent at all, his melodic bass and trademark snarl injecting soul into the theatrics. Interspersed through the film are scenes of Waters visiting the graves of his father and grandfather (both soldiers killed in war) and ruminating about their lives. The film provides a dramatic re-imagining of one of the biggest rock albums of all time.
Nature documentaries are well-trod ground at this point, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still impress. Produced by the BBC, Enchanted Kingdom is a tour through the diverse biomes of Africa, with everything from the tiniest insects to the tallest mountain peaks captured in immaculate detail. The filmmakers used a variety of cameras and techniques to document their subjects, and the level of craftsmanship on display is impressive, with even the time lapse sequences looking too seamless to be real. The film accurately reproduces the sounds of the wild as well, and moments like a volcano erupting will rock the audience. Idris Elba provides narration, his rich baritone enveloping viewers on their journey through nature.
When NASA closed its doors on the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, hope for exploring new worlds and witnessing life beyond ours started to dissipate. Journey to Space brings hope back by showcasing NASA’s audacious plans for landing on Mars in the distant (but not too distant) future. You’re given just a glimpse — the documentary is a lean 45 minutes — but it’s packed with beautiful footage from space that was originally featured in the IMAX film, Space Station 3D. If you missed out on that movie when it was released in theaters, Journey to Space is the only way to see that footage in the comfort of your home and surrounded in Atmos sound. The doc is also narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart, who knows a thing or two about the deep realms of space from his old Starfleet days.
Between self-automated semi-trucks and Amazon package drones, railroads seem like a minuscule accomplishment from more than a century ago. Rocky Mountain Express puts into perspective just how amazing of a feat it was to build railroads. Originally an IMAX release, the documentary follows a restored 1930’s steam engine as it travels railroads throughout rural Canada, and as the train goes on its journey, we’re treated to aerial footage of breathtaking landscapes and once-in-a-lifetime views. The thunderous roar of a steam engine echoing throughout your home gives you the sensation of a train travelling just right outside your front door. Admittedly, a documentary about trains doesn’t sound too enthralling, but you’re quickly captivated at the train’s remarkable power and ingenuity. The feeling is how you imagine people felt in the late 1800’s when film was first introduced and audiences were enthralled with the Luiere brothers’ 50-second film, Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station.