The River Wild


   More like the Budget Wild; at $40 million it’s the most expensive river trip in the world. Universal Films is footing the bill in order to present the first major motion picture that revolves exclusively around a whitewater raft trip. The trip journeys through a fictitious river gorge in Montana called the River Wild, (the Kootenai River in Montana and the Rogue River in Oregon.)

   The River Wild, huh? It sounds like a Disneyland ride, the very image we guides despise, portraying river trips down pristine, free-flowing rivers. Luckily for the movie, a behind-the-scenes crew, like Brian Dierker, Scotty Davis, Jon Wasson, and Steve Jones, have been crucial players in adding authenticity to an otherwise “typical Hollywood” screenplay. Because of a dynamic assemblage of river and climbing experts, excellent acting, and an open-minded director (Curtis Hanson), the movie has the makings for a suspenseful, action-adventure story that attempts to draw the audience into what river running is all about.

   The story revolves around a family on their river vacation that takes a turn when circumstances careen out of their control. Meryl Streep plays Gail, a boatman, mother, wife, and dog-lover who is the heroine. After years of living in Boston and feeling lost in her marriage to Tom (David Strathairn), a geeky architect, she attempts to save her marriage by organizing a family rafting trip in honor of her son’s birthday. The whole family, including the dog, journeys down the river Gail guided on long ago. Emotional tensions fly as Tom finds he resents the river and everything it represents. It is Gail’s past, her core, and the complete anathema to the ordered, meticulous Tom. Several days into the trip the action really picks up when they encounter the BAD GUYS (Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly). This is where the family vacation gets weird and Hollywood steps in. There’s hairy whitewater running, cliff scaling, chase scenes, emotional family bonding, and yes, even bloodshed, Hollywood style.

   So, what does all this have to do with us?

   Despite crazy Hollywood antics, this river movie is timely. Boatmen from all around the country are congregated to advocate environmental activism in saving rivers to Hollywood elitists. Meryl Streep, who pulls in some $30 K a day for rowing and acting, seems to deeply identify with our love of rivers and our desire to protect them for the future. Thanks to Brian and Scotty, she and others are fully aware of GCRG and the on-going research in the Canyon. They will no doubt be players in the future, not only for Grand Canyon, but for rivers all over the world.

Kate Thompson