Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: IMAX: Under the Sea

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    IMAX Under the Sea

    Directed By: Howard Hall

    Narrated by: Jim Carrey


    Studio: Warner Bros.

    Year: 2009

    Rated: G

    Film Length: 41 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 16:9

    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch

    Release Date: March 30, 2010

    The Film ****

    IMAX: Under the Sea is an underwater nature documentary in the vein of and from the same filmmakers who produced IMAX Deep Sea in 2006. While that earlier film focused primarily on the sea life surrounding North America, for Under the Sea, the film crew ventures further afield to much more exotic locations including South Australia, Australia'a Great Barrier Reef, and the Coral Triangle around Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Spectacular sights captured include Wobbegong Sharks, Sea Snakes, Cuttle Fish, Great White Sharks, Reef Squid, a field of garden eels, jellyfish, puppy dog cute Australian Sea Lions, and intricate and bizarre looking Sea Dragons. Many of the creatures captured on film are exclusive to their exotic locations which makes the “IMAX Experience” the closest that most viewers are likely to get to actually seeing them in person. Some sequences impress based on the sheer proximity of the cameras to the creatures as is the case with the Great White Shark footage. Others capture the creatures engaged in unusual feeding or mating activities such as a sequence involving a Sea Turtle dining on a Jellyfish.

    Straightforward narration from Jim Carrey explains in simple terms the various underwater creatures and environments appearing on the screen peppered occasionally with an ecological message about the negative effects of rising global temperatures and oceanic acidification on the delicate balance of these environments and the diverse species relying on them for survival. I did not find Carrey’s voice especially distinctive in the absence of his physical presence on screen, and the resulting narrative, while informative, comes across a little bit dull. This is more than compensated for by the consistently remarkable footage of underwater species both familiar and rare. Occasional moments of humor are injected into the narrative, but they are of the generally corny nature one expects from educational films. The funniest bit of commentary occurs outside the course of the narration when the mating ritual between two male and one fickle female Flamboyant Cuttle Fish is depicted accompanied by Doris Day’s recording of the song “Perhaps”.

    The Video ****½

    This film’s raison d’être is its spectacular visuals, and while any home video format will at best yield only a shadow of its native IMAX 3-D format, this “flat” VC-1 encoded 1080p presentation cropped from its native IMAX dimensions to fill the 16:9 frame is a pretty impressive looking approximation. Color, detail, and shadow detail are uniformly outstanding, creating as close to a “you are there” experience as is possible in a 2-D home environment. The larger the screen available, the closer to the “experiential” effect intended by the filmmakers the viewer will get. I watched it both on a 50” 1080p plasma display as well as on a 100” screen via a 720p LCD front projector, and despite the nominally lower resolution and depth of black levels, the film was much more effective via the front projection set-up.

    The Audio ****

    The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track provides the expected crystal clear lossless rendering of the music, effects, and narration one would expect from a home repurposing of an IMAX surround track. The mix itself is a bit more subdued in its use of foley effects than that of its predecessor IMAX: Deep Sea, but still offers an immersive (or is that “submersive”) three-dimensional environment to complement the astounding visuals.

    The Extras **½

    All special features are presented in VC-1 encoded 1080p video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound.

    Filming IMAX: Under the Sea (7:17) is a promotional featurette that mixes in some behind the scenes information with the expected mild hype for the film. Footage consists of film clips, behind the scenes footage, and talking head interview segments. The most interesting footage and discussion concerns the massive underwater IMAX 3D camera and lighting rigs and the logistics associated with using them in the various exotic locations. On-camera comments are offered by Executive Producer and IMAX Corporation Co-founder Graeme Ferguson, Director Howard Hall, Producer Toni Myers, Producer Michelle Hall.

    Expeditions (12:07 w/”Play All”) is a collection of five behind the scenes “webisodes” looking at the making of the film and its exotic locales. The webisodes are organized and titles based on their specific locations as follows: #1 Papua New Guinea – New Britain, Papua New Guinea – Milne Bay, #3 South Australia, #4 The Great Barrier Reef, and #5: Indonesia. Taken collectively, these webisodes offer a much more comprehensive behind the scenes look at the making of the film and the lengths the filmmakers had to go to capture the amazing underwater footage of rare and exotic creatures than the Filming “IMAX: Under the Sea” featurette. Note: although encoded as VC-1 1080p video, all of the footage in these webisodes appears to consist of upconverted standard definition video.

    Packaging

    The disc is packaged in a standard sized blu-ray case with no inserts.  Note: while press release materials and even in-store ads have indicated that this blu-ray would be bundled with an SD DVD and digital copy version of the film,  the review copy I was sent did not include such content.

    Summary ****

    IMAX: Under the Sea offers a collection of impressive underwater footage from exotic locations around Australia and the Coral Triangle with informative if sometimes dull narration from Jim Carrey. While not capable of reproducing the full “IMAX 3D Experience”, this blu-ray presentation offers outstanding video and audio that should be watched with the largest screen and closest to reference volume surround sound set-up a viewer can manage in their home. Extras consist of featurettes offering a glimpse into the production logistics of shooting this amazing IMAX footage in the exotic and/or remote locations.

    Regards,
     

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