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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

IMAX Under the Sea [Blu-ray]

 

(Howard Hall, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Howard Hall Productions

Blu-ray: Warner Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 0:40:51.490 

Disc Size: 11,524,010,147 bytes

Feature Size: 9,416,214,528 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.95 Mbps

Chapters: 5

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 30th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 4090 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 4090 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), Dutch, French, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• Filming IMAX Under the Sea – in HD (7:15)

• Webisode: Expedition Papua New Guinea – New Britain – in HD (1:40)

• Webisode: Expedition Papua New Guinea – New Britain – in HD (2:00)

• Webisode: Expedition South Australia – in HD (2:00)

• Webisode: Expedition Great Barrier Reef – in HD (3:25)

• Webisode: Expedition Indonesia – in HD (2:40)

• DVD of the Feature Film

• Digital Copy Disc

 

 

The Film: 6
My first experience with IMAX was back in the early 1970s at Balboa Park, San Diego. Coincidentally, the subject was life under the sea. The only cinematic experience I had previously that achieved anything like a similar involving effect in purely cinematic terms was 3-projector Cinerama. To be thrust into a seamless world with near equal dimensionality was an adventure to be remembered. I think I avoided IMAX from then on largely because of the cost per minute, but I did watch The Dark Knight at an IMAX theatre and recalled some of that decades-old feeling of being there for a few minutes at a time.

Those two IMAX presentations were in 2D, and even though I also saw Avatar in 3D at an IMAX theatre, impressive as it was, I was not fooled: This was not IMAX any more than upscaled standard definition DVD is 1080p. And even though Howard Hall's Imax Under the Sea was shown in 3D at Imax theatres, what we have on Blu-ray is neither 3D nor IMAX. What we get is the dramatic content, if we can call it that, but not the spectacle – not IMAX size, not 3D dimensionality, nor, I venture to guess, IMAX resolution. For this film to be on Blu-ray, the scan would had to have been at 8K, as it was with the IMAX documentary Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk and Baraka. There's no mention of this on the disc or the accompanying promotional materials, but from the look of it, I suspect not. On the other hand, a few of the caps were among the largest file sizes I've come across.

Under the Sea bears comparison with "The Shallow Seas" segment from Planet Earth in that the IMAX film is a series of lovely images with insufficient time and breath to develop context. Missing, abbreviated or softened is the Cycle of Life itself. Its mere forty minutes does not allow for sufficient time to develop the drama of most of the species it captures on film. Compare the two treatments of the sea snake. In the newer film, the snakes just slither around, but in "Shallow Seas" we see how the snake works with other creatures to play its part in the march of life. Under the Sea ends with an insipid suggestion that after decades of carelessness and greed, we humans are on the verge of a change of heart. If it weren't for the narration and an extended appearance by Australian giant cuttlefish, Under the Sea could pass for wallpaper.


 

Image: 8/9   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Perhaps the least important aspect of this Blu-ray is its incorrect aspect (1.78:1 instead of 1.44:1). The visuals under the sea or, for all practical purposes, are borderless – that's part of the point. The fact that we miss some of the height is of little import. Then there's the question of resolution – and here I discovered a most illuminating bit of brain processing: Whilst watching Under the Sea I thought those sections of Planet Earth or Galapagos filmed underwater were as sharp or better on Blu-ray. But when I checked out those earlier Blu-ray titles I found such is not the case. The new disc is a little sharper, and movement across the frame is less of a problem, as I would have expected. No doubt, the fact there is several feet of water between lens and subject makes sharpness less than it might be otherwise. In other respects, I found no transfer issues of concern. Artificial lighting is more generous, and color is brighter and more vivid with a tendency to bleed, which is not to say Under the Sea looks more natural – just that there's more wow factor. I found the heightened color tiresome, but I doubt my reaction is representative.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/6
Mickey Erbe's music is inoffensive, but without much nuance or originality. It's too loud in the mix for my taste, thinly disguising that it's main function is to divert attention away from what little actual sound is available under the sea, too subtle for HD audio with its music and narration mixed in. What I was hoping for was an immersive feeling, but this was not to be. The occasional bubbling and swishing doesn't quite cut it. I'm not entirely convinced that what we hear are in fact the actual sounds. I thought: Where is Uhura when need her ability to compensate for depth, pressure and water. I felt Jim Carrey's narration too distant in the background, especially relative to the music track. Carrey is light, warm, friendly and inviting – kind of Sesame Street-like, which is no doubt the desired effect.

 

Operations: 7
The menus work as they should. We like that the five webisodes are available as a Play All and that the chapter thumbnails display the fish du jour.

 

 

Extras: 2
Shown in HD, there is opportunity for some real depth of content here, but, alas, these bonus features are merely promotional pieces for the medium. Worse still, the webisodes promote the 3D version! "Filming IMAX Under the Sea" is the only feature worth watching, though the filmmakers tend to fall back on saying things like: It was tough but we chose to go there anyhow [and] IMAX is the next best thing to being there. But there is no there there – nothing about what IMAX is, or how it works, or how they did the 3D (as long as they were on the subject.)

 

 

Bottom line: 5
At $35.99 U.S. List Price for the Combo Pack, I cannot recommend a purchase. A rental is about what this deserves. The movie is harmless enough, but I don't see much replay factor here. The target audience here seems to be single-digit kids, for whom I suggest instead a visit to any of the Walt Disney True Life Adventures just to see how narrative and content can work together for a younger audience. And for older kids and adult types, watch Planet Earth or Galapagos if you haven't seen them already. The single disc package might be better value, but in any case I can't say much for the content.

Leonard Norwitz
March 15th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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