Maybe some of you parents reading this have experienced the same thing my wife and I have--you put in untold time and effort (not to mention moolah) planning what you think will be an incredible family vacation, only to be greeted by the typical eye rolling and loud sighs that seem to make up kids' repertoires. We had consigned ourselves to this situation last year on a trip to Southern Oregon, which, truth be told, didn't offer a lot of exciting things to do. But when we took a quick jaunt over the border to northern California to visit the lava tubes, hundreds of subterranean caves formed by ancient volcanic activity, suddenly we had two kids actually excited about being with their geezer parents. That same sense of childlike wonder permeates Journey Into Amazing Caves, a splendid IMAX feature produced by the leader of the big, big, big image film, McGillivray-Freeman.
Journey Into Amazing Caves starts with a bang in the Grand Canyon, as it follows two women cavers, Hazel Barton and Nancy Aulenbach, as they rappel down to a cave that has probably never before been entered. The film is interesting in that it features these two women, pioneers in an unusual endeavor. They search out "extremophiles," life forms that live in extreme conditions. Of course, one could call these intrepid women extremophiles themselves, for other reasons. Watching these women swing above huge chasms, or later in the film travel deep beneath the arctic surface to ice caves in Greenland, is a lesson in not only physical strength, but psychological as well. I myself felt claustrophobic on more than one occasion during this film, notably in an underwater sequence where the silt kicked up by the cavers meant they momentarily couldn't find their guide line.
This is one of the more visually impressive McGillivray-Freeman films I've seen, all the more impressive when you consider I just reviewed one of their efforts that might on the surface seem to present more visual possibilities, The Magic of Flight. But Journey into Amazing Caves not only has mind blowing of the caverns themselves--some with absolutely gorgeous, multicolored stalactites and stalagmites--but also some establishing footage that is equally beautiful. A couple of shots at least will literally take your breath away, notably one in the Grand Canyon that starts as a closeup on a caver on a zip line, which then quickly zooms out to reveal the man is dangling precariously between two insanely far apart cliffs, hanging there on a thread literally hundreds and hundreds of feet midair.
Journey into Amazing Caves ping pongs back and forth between narration voiced by Liam Neeson and first person accounts by the women scientists. One of the cooler aspects of this production is the women evidently set up a website for kids to follow their exploits, and there are several scenes of students watching webcasts featuring the women. Barton and Aulenbach obviously love what they're doing--they actually state they'll be caving from their wheelchairs--and that love is imparted to the viewer as they explore one fantastic cavescape after another.
This is a near perfect blend of visually compelling information combined with really interesting scientific backgrounds, and should be enjoyed by just about anyone with an eye for the unusual. You may even find your own petulant teenager actually entertained and informed for the 40 or so minutes it lasts.
Journey into Amazing Caves arrives with a VC-1 encode and an enhanced 1.78:1 OAR. Colors, saturation and contrast are all top notch, and black levels are completely consistent (important for the dimly lit underground scenes). This BD exhibited none of the edge enhancement issues I recently noticed on another MFF IMAX feature, The Magic of Flight.
The DTS HD-MA 5.1 soundtrack is similarly excellent, with surround channels kicking in with the unusual, but strangely effective, choice of Moody Blues music to augment the visuals. Neeson's narration is always front and center and clearly heard and the women's comments are equally well rendered. A Spanish DD 5.1 mix is also available.
As with the other MFF BDs being released, this also features the history of McGillivray-Freeman Films, as well as info on Greg McGillivray. As usual, there's also a making of documentary showing how they captured these amazing images.
Journey into Amazing Caves takes an unusual subject, focuses on two equally unusual proponents of the subject, and comes up a winner on all counts. Fascinating from both a visual and informational aspect, this is documentary filmmaking at its finest. Highly recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet