Wild Ocean, directed by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas and narrated by John Kani, is another visually impressive IMAX production. This time set around the shores of South Africa and focusing on the environmental effects of sardine fishing, the visuals are as lush and remarkable as you'd expect based on previous offerings in this line, maybe even more so. This time around, the narration takes on an environmentalist stance, but never comes across as heavy handed or judgmental as many documentaries with this slant tend to do.
The film is set in an area of the South African coast known as the Wild Ocean area where there are more marine predators than anywhere else in the area. Why do these different fish, mammals and birds all congregate in the same area? Because it's rich in sardines, and as such, it makes hunting and feeding relatively easy. The annual sardine run, a migration of absolutely staggering proportions, occurs each year when the cold water currents bring the fish in closer to land in search of warmer water, and when this happens we literally see massive tornado sized streams of sardines come upon the area. From the air, they look like oil slicks, and when viewed from underwater, they look like swirling clouds. The documentary contains striking footage shot from both perspectives.
So as the sardines make their migration, we see seals, penguins, dolphins, diving birds and other sea predators move in to take advantage of the free and easy food they make for. Amazingly enough, the schools of sardines act with what can only be described as a collective intelligence, as if one central brain is controlling the movements of hundreds of thousands of fish at the same time. They keep moving, in unison, to avoid and confuse the predators. Sometimes they succeed, other times they're not so lucky. Sharks move in on the scene to take advantage of the massive collection of marine life in the area, and in one incredible scene shot underwater we see almost all of the aforementioned animals involved in a remarkable life and death struggle. As the sardines swarm, the dolphins try to break them up, the seals move in from the sides ,the birds dive down from above and the sharks swim underneath it all.
The environmentalist slant to the documentary comes into play as the narration discusses preservation tactics put into play by the South African government. Currently approximately twenty percent of the coast line is protected, ensuring that unlike what's happened in parts of North America and Europe, the sardine run should continue to be an annual event. Off shore fisherman cast their lines into the water while boats bring in nets swimming with countless fish but the regulations at least try to conserve this amazing natural resource. Unfortunately, pollution and the effects of global warming take their tolls, creating warmer water closer to shore and driving the sardine swarms further out to sea, thus affecting the habits of the creatures that dwell closer to land and feed off of them.
The message is made loud and clear through Kadi's narration, but the documentary isn't a doom and gloom piece. In fact, it's quite the opposite. As we travel with and learn about the ocean creatures that make up the bulk of the content, we also get a look at the South African people and their way of life. We learn how they live off of what the sea provides and how they celebrate life through song. It's all set to a very percussion heavy soundtrack - which isn't surprising when you consider that Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas created Stomp - and it's wonderfully shot. The film moves at a good pace and at only forty-two minutes in length, it could easily have been twice as long and been just as entertaining. In fact, the short length is really the only part of this production worth complaining about. Everything else is handled perfectly. The end result is a fascinating and beautiful documentary that's educational, entertaining and completely engrossing.
Wild Ocean looks great in this 1.85.1 VC-1 encoded 1080p high definition transfer. The colors are spectacular, leaping off the screen at times, while detail is crisp and strong throughout. Some of the underwater photography looks understandably softer than the footage shot from the air and the ground but aside from that, you can't really complain. The odd minor speck of debris shows up once in a while but if you're not looking for it you're probably not going to notice it. Image's disc is well authored as it shows no evidence of edge enhancement or of mpeg compression and there are moments here that are just stunning in their detail and clarity. It isn't every shot that looks this good, and some inconsistencies in the source material are evident, but when this one shines, which is more often than not, it looks really beautiful.
Image offers up a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix in your choice of English, French and Spanish and a standard definition Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track but no alternate subtitle options of any kind. The narrator, John Kani, speaks with a fairly thick accent and there are spots where he can be hard to make out over the score and the sounds of crashing waves and what not, but aside from those few moments where maybe the levels aren't balanced perfectly, the DTS-HD track is a good mix. Surround activity is very strong here - take the scene where the birds dive down into the water to catch the sardines while the dolphins swirl around them. When the birds hit the water, it almost sounds like a series of gunshots going off all around you and it's quite impressive. The score is spread out perfectly, coming at you from all directions and offering up a nice, strong low end. Had Kani's narration been a bit stronger here, it'd have been nearly flawless, but even as it stands, it's still quite impressive.
The primary extra on this disc is an Interview With The Directors (15:56), a segment in which Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas explain how they went from directing Stomp on Broadway to making Wild Ocean. From there they talk about the challenges of shooting in the IMAX format, share some stories about shooting out in the middle of the ocean and using so much underwater photography, and how the shift of the movie they made changed to take on a more conservational tone as they were making it.
From there, check out the four short featurettes starting with Kwazulu Natal During The Run (6:31) that shows what happens in the area during the sardine run and how the people who live in the area react to it and take advantage of it. Behind-The-Scenes (8:39) is a quick look at how the underwater photography was done using some high tech cameras and how the divers in charge of capturing the remarkable images seen in the feature went about doing just that. Recording Wild Ocean (2:23) is a quick bit about how composer and conductor Dominic Nuns and his orchestra created the excellent score used in Wild Ocean whileShooting Wild Ocean (7:13) is a still gallery set to the that score featuring some very impressive photography.
Rounding out the extras are trailers for other Imax Blu-ray releases available from Image, an interactive trivia quiz that you can navigate with your remote control, text pieces that give information on some of the natural phenomena documented in the film and on the filmmakers, animated menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on this release are presented in full 1080p high definition.
Filled with gorgeous footage from start to finish, Wild Ocean is one of the best IMAX releases to hit Blu-ray so far. The transfer is very strong as is the HD audio track while the extras are interesting and informative as well. Nature documentary junkies ought to check this one out, consider it highly recommended if you fall into that category.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.