The wonderful thing about IMAX is that it lets you see things on a scale never before thought possible. Seeing the Grand Canyon in IMAX isn't going to be as impressive as seeing the Grand Canyon in person, but seeing it in IMAX will still take your breath away. A program like Blue Planet, which details all the variety of life and environments on the planet, is perfect for the format, as it's rife with those sweeping vistas that look so impressive.
Filmed in 1990, Blue Planet already appears dated. Not that the imagery can be tied to a specific place or time. No, the images are timeless. The Earth is a beautiful place, and there's ample evidence on display here to support that fact. Where the problem lies is in the movie's attempts to convince us that we're destroying it all. When we're living in a time where alternative fuels are a casual aspect of our daily discussions, Blue Planet comes off as hopelessly naive and at times even preachy. It doesn't help that the narrator, Toni Myers, is so monotone that you could fall asleep listening to her.
Blue Planet also falls prey to the lure of making IMAX a gimmick as opposed to an immersing cinematic experience. There's a specific instance I noticed where we're seeing a computer simulation of a landscape, and all of a sudden the camera rockets through a pair of hills with a "WHOOSH" sound. While that may have thrilled audiences 17 years ago, it just falls flat now.
At the same time, the power of the visuals is undeniable. There is no recording device on Earth that can match the abilities of fifteen perforation 70mm film. And when you train that film on some of the most beatific areas of the world, you're going to come out with some winning footage. Unfortunately, the far superior Planet Earth BBC documentary that has made such a big splash on HD DVD and Blu-ray has made Blue Planet somewhat superfluous in high definition. As amazing as IMAX looks in a theater, the impact gets lost on a smaller screen. Nlu Planet isn't awful, it's just been overshadowed in the 17 years since its release.
The Blu-ray Disc:
I was disappointed in Warner's 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer. For one thing, Warner has reframed Blue Planet from its original full-frame aspect ratio to a 1.78:1 widescreen ratio. As a purist, this irks me, even if the reframing is actually not badly done. But that's not the only problem. The film shows its age, looking less than pristine. I saw plenty of dirt and scratches on the print, and most of it looked soft. I even noticed some image wavering. Note, though, that this transfer is exactly the same on the HD DVD. Warner has used identical transfers on both formats, so there is literally no difference between the two discs.
Warner offers a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix. While the fidelity of the track is fantastic, the mixing isn't as great. There are some moments, such as a massive thunderstorm, where the sound is so good that you'll grab an umbrella for fear of being rained on. At others, voices inexplicably come only from the rear speakers, which is just odd. There's more good than bad, but like the video, the audio mix can sometimes show its age. Also like the video, this audio mix is identical to the one that appears on the HD DVD. Also provided are Dolby Digital 5.1 English and French tracks.
There's only one extra, but boy is it a doozy. It's actually an entire IMAX documentary, this one called The Dream Is Alive. Narrated by Walter Cronkite, this 1985 film documents three shuttle launches, in an era of pre-Challenger optimism. Much of the footage was shot in space by actual astronauts, and you practically feel like you're there. The image is far more stable, clean, and sharp than in Blue Planet, and the sound is easily just as good, if not better. The shuttle launches are a home audio workout, with plenty of rumbling bass. This really shouldn't even be considered an extra. It's got its own menu, comes with lossless audio, and is in full 1080p HD. If it is considered an extra, it's one of the best supplements available on any disc.
Blue Planet was probably a real eye-popper back when it first debuted in IMAX. But the ravages of time have taken their toll on the film, and the image on this Blu-ray is not as good as it could have been. However, the bonus feature, The Dream is Alive, is a fantastic IMAX documentary that still holds up today and looks and sounds excellent in full HD and lossless audio. The Blu-ray and HD DVD editions are exactly the same in every way. No matter which format you choose, the real draw here is The Dream is Alive. Because of its inclusion, this disc is Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.