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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Journey Into Amazing Caves (IMAX) (2-Disc WMVHD Edition)
Journey Into Amazing Caves (IMAX) (2-Disc WMVHD Edition)
Image // Unrated // June 29, 2004
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted July 15, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The movie

I expect an IMAX film to present spectacular images. But to justify existence as a film, and not just a glorified photo gallery, the program needs to have solid content as well as nice visuals. That's what MacGillivray Freeman seems to have forgotten in Journey into Amazing Caves, an incoherent assemblage of material whose only purpose seems to be showing off the daring camera work and variety of locations that were covered.

I can't even tell you what Journey into Amazing Caves is really about. At first, it seems to promise information on "extremophiles": forms of life that can survive in extreme hot or cold conditions. But apart from repeating half a dozen times that these microorganisms might lead to breakthroughs in medicine, the film doesn't bother to explain the matter any further. What are these microorganisms like? How do they survive at extreme temperatures? What do we know about them? Forget it: the only "informational content" that we get is in the "video diary" of one of the explorers... for her second-grade class. Am I the only one who finds it vaguely insulting that the only factual information provided here is explicitly presented at a second-grade level?

What Journey into Amazing Caves is more obsessed with is following the various explorers into a variety of different caves, from the ice caves formed in Greenland glaciers to underground grottoes in South America to cliff-side caves in the Grand Canyon. There's barely any transition between one segment and the next; we really have no idea why the explorers are in any given place. The footage in each place seems to have been chosen for its spectacular nature rather than any possible informational quality: for instance, in the Grand Canyon sequence we get a long series of pointless images of the team kayaking, and in the Yucatan sequence we get to see how the swimmers in the underwater cave stir up a lot of debris. Oh no, will they be able to find their way out? (Ominous theme music starts! I'm not kidding.) Whew, they made it. What suspense.

It's truly an accomplishment when a 40-minute documentary can be boring, but Journey into Amazing Caves pulls it off. There's really no reason whatsoever to watch this film.

The DVD

Journey into Amazing Caves is a two-disc set, packaged in a single-wide keepcase. The first DVD has the program and special features, and the second disc has the program in high-definition format.

Video

Two versions of the film are included here: an anamorphic widescreen version (1.85:1 aspect ratio) and a version at the traditional 4:3 IMAX aspect ratio. I did a couple of scene-to-scene comparisons, and as far as I can tell, the widescreen version includes all the same image as the 4:3 version, plus additional information on the sides. This makes for a much more immersive and impressive viewing experience if you have a widescreen TV, and even if you don't, you might want to consider watching the widescreen version, since the framing looks better (and it's the only way to get the DTS track; see below).

The image is bright and clean, with good colors, but there's a substantial amount of pixellation and digital artifacts in many of the scenes. Overall, it's not particularly sharp-looking, but it's satisfactory overall.

Audio

Whoever put together the DVD for Journey into Amazing Caves needs a wake-up call about usability: the choices of soundtrack that are available depends on which video format you choose. If you choose the widescreen option, you can choose between a DTS and a Dolby 5.1 track; if you choose the 4:3 option, you can't choose the DTS, but instead are given the option of an English Dolby 5.1, French Dolby 5.1, or Spanish Dolby 5.1. It's not possible to change audio options on the fly, either. I have no idea what the DVD designers were smoking when they came up with this.

The DTS 5.1 track offers a solid listening experience overall. There's not all that much use of surround, mainly because of the content (caves are pretty quiet places), but a few effective touches are used here and there. The music is unobtrusive (and forgettable) most of the time, but you'll notice it every now and then when the filmmakers decide to highlight a particular shot as dramatic and impressive, and they crank up the volume and intensity of the music accordingly. The Dolby 5.1 track sounds very similar to the DTS, except that it has a bit less depth.

Extras

The main special feature is a 40-minute "making-of" featurette. It's as forgettable as the main program, consisting mainly of clips from the program interspersed with participants commenting about how hard it was to shoot that footage. The other special features are a text blurb on filmmaker Greg MacGillivray, a section on "caves books" with photo galleries from the books, trailers, and a trivia quiz.

The second disc of the set has the complete feature in a high-definition transfer. As there are currently no high-definition DVD players, this version of the film is intended to be played on a PC running the Windows XP operating system.

Final thoughts

Journey into Amazing Caves seems to take as its highest aspiration to be nothing more than eye candy, with cave exploration sequences strung together more or less randomly, with the slimmest of narrative pretexts being the search for bacteria that may have medical applications. Sadly, though, we don't actually learn anything about these bacteria... and by that I don't just mean "we don't learn anything interesting," but in fact "we don't learn anything at all." Even interesting images soon grow stale and dull with no content to justify looking at them, and in the end Journey into Amazing Caves is a shallow, pointless, and dull film that doesn't even justify its brief 40-minute running time. Skip it.

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