IMAX Under The Sea directed by Howard Hall and narrated by none other than Jim Carey, debut in theaters in 2009 where it was presented in 3-D. IMAX, through a partnership with Warner Brothers (ending their work with Image?), have brought the film to home video on Blu-ray but not bothered with the 3-D this time around. The results are still very impressive on a visual level, but like a lot of IMAX presentations, the narration and context is a bit on the light side.
Unlike some nature documentaries, Under The Sea doesn't really have a specific point or message to convey. Instead, it basically serves as an underwater travelogue, taking us from New Guinea to Australia out to the Great Barrier Reef and then over to Indonesia, showing off as many impressive creatures, reef formations and plants as possible along the way. Some of the images captured by Hall and his crew are, in short, amazing. Eels, in unison, stick their elongated bodies out of the sand as high as six feet up to catch prey while nearby a sea turtle languidly chows down on a jellyfish, closing his eyes as he does so in order to avoid being stung in the only area he'd really feel it. A great white shark slowly moves around with an ominous and foreboding presence while small sea lions scurry about and play in front of the camera almost as if they're intentionally showing off for us.
Carey's narration is always playful, never too serious and sometimes seeming to gear itself for a younger audience. When a ray buries itself under the sand, Carey notes 'Dude, I can totally see your tail' and when cuttlefish engage in a mating ritual, he tells us that all the male fish wants is just a little kiss. While this may amuse younger viewers, it might leave those hoping for a more serious piece groaning. That said, Carey does do a pretty good job with the material here, inflicting enough of his own personality here that he's able to make his subjects interesting and lively without ever venturing into camp territory or ever coming close to overdoing it.
The film's biggest problem, however, is the aforementioned lack of context. There are bits and pieces that offer hints at an environmental message and other bits and pieces that detail habits and rituals of the different creatures profiled in the picture, but it's all fairly random and lacking focus. What we wind up with because of this is a series of stunning images and visual treats that are amazing to look at but which don't carry as much weight as they could have. That said, the camera work is impressive enough that you probably won't mind and at just over forty minutes in length, this somewhat short presentation never overstays its welcome. When you keep in mind that it was probably initially shown in more educational settings such as museums and aquariums, you can at least begin to understand why it doesn't get as deep (no pun intended) as it could have and instead plays to the more visually stimulated crowd.
Ultimately, however, the featurette is an impressive one. It's hard for words to convey just how impressive so much of this material is to look at. The score, by Mickey Erbe and Maribeth Solomon, is excellent (the horrible version of The Beatles' Octopus' Garden not withstanding) and compliments the more playful aspect of the production quite well and the whole experience winds up being one of almost transcendental relaxation. Watch this one before you go to bed and you'll find it's very soothing and mellowing. On top of that, it's entirely family friendly with no nasty animal on animal violence to upset younger viewers or more intense scenes showing the realities of survival to make it inappropriate for, well, anyone.
Under The Sea 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 a bit soft but aside from that you can't really complain. The disc from Warner Brothers 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 (there are shots where environmental issues prevent perfect clarity - such as debris in the water, for example), but when this one shines, and it does so very frequently, it looks really beautiful. There's a little bit of light aliasing in some spots but otherwise, this is an excellent looking presentation.
Image offers up a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix in English, with optional subtitles offered up in French, Dutch and Spanish. Surround activity is fairly strong here, with crashing waves placed around the mix and the score spread out nicely, but much of the action comes from the front. Jim Carey's narration is crisp and clear and easy enough to understand and there are no problems to report with any hiss or distortion. This isn't an uber-aggressive track but it's a very decent one that leaves little to complain about.
While all of the extras on this disc are presented in high definition, the content is a bit of a disappointment. First up is a seven minute featurette entitled Filming IMAX under the Sea in which the director and producer discuss the trials and tribulations of moving a massive camera around underwater. There's some behind the scenes clips here that are interesting but this is fairly promotional and lightweight. Equally light are the five Expeditions clips. These were originally shown as 'webisodes' and not one of the five clips runs more than two and a half minutes in length. They're interesting, but way too short to offer much more than just a basic look at the crew's voyages through New Guinea, Australia and Indonesia. Standard motion menus and chapter selections are also provided.
While the extras are light, the audio and video presentations are very strong and the content, while maybe geared a bit more towards younger viewers than other IMAX productions have been, is also very good. The images here, as is typical of IMAX underwater/oceanographic productions, are stunning and beautiful and anyone with an interest in underwater cinematography should consider IMAX Under The Sea recommended. You won't learn much, but it sure is pretty.
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.