Blu-Ray Review: IMAX Under the Sea

Imagine a world of incredible color and beauty. Of crabs wearing jellyfish for hats. Of fish disguised as frogs, stones and shag carpets. Of a kaleidoscope of underwater life. Now, go explore it! The makers of Deep Sea and Into the Deep take you into tropical waters alive with adventure: the Great Barrier Reef and other South Pacific realms. Narrated by Jim Carrey and featuring astonishing camerawork, this amazing film brings you face to fin with Nature?s marvels, from the terrible grandeur (and terrible teeth) of a Great White to the comic antics of a lovestruck cuttlefish.

Writer/director Howard Hall’s fourth IMAX film (after Into the Deep in 1994, Island of the Sharks in 1999, and Deep Sea in 2006), Under the Sea follows the award-winning documentarian and his talented team to the shores of Papua New Guinea, beneath the seas of South Australia, along the Great Barrier Reef, and into the flourishing waters of Indonesia. At each stop, Hall captures colorful footage of spongy frog fish, rare sharks, stingrays, venomous sea snakes, dazzling octopi, burrowing shrimp, cuttlefish, and clever chameleons of all shapes and sizes. His cameras are privy to some truly remarkable sights — a school of reef squid laying a cluster of eggs, swaying fields of garden eels, a massive turtle happily dining on a deadly jellyfish, predators prowling their favorite hunting grounds, endangered creatures that continue to endure the rugged underwater terrain, and a family of affectionate sea lions who take a moment to introduce themselves — many of which are lent endearing personalities courtesy of the director’s cheery script and Jim Carrey’s affable narration. Eels don’t mindlessly feed, they dance in the current; a turtle doesn’t merely survive, it relishes a tasty delicacy; a shrimp doesn’t dig a tunnel, it acts as a skittering contractor for a generous client; sea lions don’t simply swim together, they trot out their best tricks and showcase their skills for an adoring public.

With Hall at the helm, Under the Sea is both a visual and auditory treat on Blu-ray. The crispness, detail and color of the source material are faithfully reproduced here in a stunning 1080p hi-def presentation. Blu-ray and IMAX are perfectly suited, as the full capacity of the IMAX image is given room to play in your living room, thanks to the hi-def format. DTS-HD Master Audio mixes don’t often get the workout they deserve, but I’m happy to say that this mix doesn’t disappoint. The music is soothing and understated for the most part, but also breaks free from time to time, most noticeably during the rendition of “Octopus’s Garden” that plays near the end of the feature. When atmospheric effects or Carrey’s narration are given center stage, the audio mix is always well-balanced and immersive, helping the viewer to lose themselves in the gorgeous footage before them.

The supplements on Under the Sea let viewers get behind the scenes on the production with the filmmakers through a brief  “making of” featurette and a series of webisodes, labeled here as “expeditions” that grant a peak into the often taxing IMAX underwater filmmaking process.

The supplements provided on this release are:

Behind the Story:
Filming IMAX: Under the Sea
(1.78:1; 1080i/60; 0:07.17)

Expeditions:

#1: Papua New Guinea — New Britain (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 0:01.45)
#2: Papua New Guinea — Mine Bay (1.78:1;1080i/60; 0:02.07)

#3: South Australia (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 0:02.02)

#4: The Great Barrier Reef (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 0:03.28)

#5: Indonesia (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 0:02.44)

Under the Sea doesn’t bring anything new to the IMAX fold, but its Blu-ray release certainly does. While similar documentaries have been crippled by mediocre AV presentations, Warner has granted Hall’s fourth underwater adventure a stunning video transfer and a satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. I’m sure documentary fans would have appreciated some more substantial special features, but anyone who picks up Under the Sea will be too entranced by their screen and speakers to care about a lackluster supplemental package.

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