In last fall's beautiful Life of Pi, the main character is stranded on a raft with a cranky tiger. The story, adapted faithfully from the fantastically written novel of the same name, asks many questions about religion and kindness—but, really, the nagging question for Hollywood is: Why must every movie with a raft or canoe as its primary vehicle turn into such a horrible experience?
Pi, the clever Indian teenage protagonist, drifts on a raft after the freighter ship carrying his family and his family's zoo sinks. Along the way he encounters soul-crushing doubt, punishing thirst and flying fish that dart across his small vessel. And he must make tentative peace with a tiger who also has landed on the raft. It is not a fun afternoon floating down the Deschutes.
Likewise, in the Norwegian film Kon Tiki (2012)—based on Thor Heyerdahl legendary 1947 voyage for which he convinced several Scandinavian misfits to drift across the Pacific Ocean on a hand-made balsa raft—the crew is harassed by sharks, and heaven-shaking storm lifts the three-ton wooden raft as if it were a handful of toothpicks. The film truly deserved last year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film, but again, is no way to persuade someone to take up rafting.
In 1972, a bare-chested Burt Reynolds and three buddies decide to brave the Cahulawassee River a few days before dam construction will turn the wild river into a lapdog. But what they discover is that banjo-picking humanity is more dangerous than anything the natural world can throw their way. Utterly unnerving, Deliverance is considered one of the more significant films in the past several decades and was accepted into the National Film Registry five years ago.
The River Wild (1994) picks up a similar ambience. Stocked with an A-list cast, Meryl Streep sets off on a family vacation down a bumpy Idaho river to save her even bumpier marriage. The story turns creepy when the family encounters Kevin Bacon, whose seeming friendliness melts away to expose a simmering evil underbelly. With segments filmed on the Rogue River, this gripping and fun film is certainly not sanctioned by Oregon Chamber of Commerce.