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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: MacGillivray Freeman's "Journey Into Amazing Caves"



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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Scott McAllister

Scott McAllister

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Posted May 09 2009 - 06:20 AM

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MacGillivray Freeman’s “Journey Into Amazing Caves”




Studio: Image Entertainment
Year: 2001 (Blu-ray release 2009)
Rated: NR
Film Length: 40 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p (main feature), 1.78:1 1080P & 480i standard definition (special features)
Languages: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (main feature), Dolby Digital 5.1 (special features)






The Show
Reviewing a picture in a home environment that was filmed specifically for IMAX theaters can be a tricky proposition. On one hand, a good home theater system is always an immersive and enveloping environment to watch any high definition film. On the other hand, it doesn’t quite compare to the eight story screens that IMAX theaters use for their presentations. So, as much as I enjoy getting to review a documentary like “Amazing Caves”, something is always lost in the translation of IMAX to home, no matter how excellent the presentation may be.


That having been said, “Amazing Caves” translates better than any other IMAX Blu-ray that I’ve seen up to this point. “Amazing Caves” is brought to you by MacGillivray Freeman productions, the same people who did the spectacular “Everest” and “To Fly!” IMAX documentaries. As with those stellar examples, “Amazing Caves” captures the claustrophobic, exciting, and often dangerous world of cave diving in three distinct regions of the world. It begins in the smoldering dustbowl of the Arizona desert as Nancy Aullenbach and Dr. Hazel Barton explore for rare life forms known as “extremophiles”; organisms that can live in environments inhospitable to most other creatures.


The location shifts from Arizona to Greenland in what I consider to be the best part of the documentary. Nancy and Hazel delve into the frozen blackness of ice caverns in an effort to obtain ice scrapings from five hundred feet below the surface. There’s plenty of vertigo inducing moments here in Greenland, most notably a straight-down camera view of a climber descending a sheet of ice into the blackness.


After Greenland, the production shifts to the warmer climates of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. Here Hazel attempts to gather an extremophile that lives in the radical environment where salt water and fresh water meets. In what is probably the scariest example of scientific cave exploration, Hazel scubas through an underground cavern which is fully submersed in order to reach her goal.


Picture Quality
“Amazing Caves” is yet another fantastic example of how well Blu-ray handles nature-related documentaries. Every detail is brought to life with amazing clarity and detail, especially since “Amazing Caves” was originally produced in 2001. The HD conversion for this title was obviously done with some care, and it seems as if the IMAX format is well suited to make the transition to high definition.


Audio Quality
The soundtrack takes center stage on “Amazing Caves”. The DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers the dialogue front and center where it should be, but the remaining channels are left for the score to do its job, and it does it well. The majestic scenery is often matched with strong orchestral score and, occasionally, a few songs by the Moody Blues.


Special Features
Unlike the last title I saw, the special features here are a real treat. There’s a forty minute behind-the-scenes documentary of all the trials and troubles of making “Amazing Caves” and it covers quite a bit of details. I have a newfound respect for these scientists who agreed to have IMAX cameras follow them around. I can only imagine how hard it must be to do seventeen takes of repelling down a giant cave lip into the water only to have to climb up a three story ladder and do it again.


The unsung heroes here are definitely the cameramen who literally go to the ends of the earth to make sure documentary gets what it needs. It’s easy to forget that they’re there, but it’s a sobering experience when you watch an expert French ice cave diver take a sample from five hundred feet down and realize that the cameraman is down there with him. This behind-the-scenes feature is practically as good as the main presentation and should not be missed.

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