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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.