2006's "Deep Sea" was a breathtaking journey into the depths of the ocean, brought to life through the miracle of IMAX (back when the brand name meant something) and sold by a golden tag-team narration effort from Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. It was a miraculous moviegoing event. "Under the Sea" is the semi-sequel, returning excited viewers to miracles hidden beneath the surface of the ocean, again captured with stupendous IMAX camerawork. However, the tide has changed for the underwater documentary genre, and instead of inducing wonder for 40 straight minutes, "Under the Sea" seeks to be more environmentally aware, giving viewers a few pointed reminders on the destructive effects of climate change.
Director Howard Hall returns to his favorite cinematic subject matter with "Under the Sea," having directed a good number of these underwater IMAX adventures over the last two decades. A skilled craftsman of nature entertainment, Hall uses his time in Papua New Guinea and along Australia's Great Barrier Reef well, capturing the currents of life that exist beyond what mankind is typically allowed to reach. As expected, it's a bustling community of fish, mammals, sea snakes, and various scientific question marks that populate this ocean garden, making for exceptional eye candy as the creatures go about their daily behavioral quirks and hunts for food. It's an amazing collection of sea life on display, with special attention paid to the ways of the cuttlefish, who take center stage in the film, showing off their lightning-fast predatory skills, saucy mating rituals, and egg-laying preferences.
Helping nature to explain itself is Jim Carrey, here as the film's narrator and modest jokester. It's a more peaceful, solemn Carrey than expected, with only a few brief flashes of his standard mischief. Carrey doesn't exactly retain the vocal urgency of a Winslet, but the funnyman does a commendable job here, warmly cooing behavioral explanations and sounding the ecological alarm. Admittedly, the actor is a strange choice to narrate a nature documentary, but once the gorgeous visuals take hold, it ceases to matter what voice leads the way, as long as the ocean's mysteries are offered plenty of screentime.
The VC-1 encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) provides an immaculate viewing event, encouraged by the use of IMAX cameras and the sheer splendor of the locations. It's a blue oasis for the BD, which does a tremendous job maintaining a colorful presentation, retaining all the visual personalities of the creatures. The disc is obviously interested in deep blues, but orange, silver, and red skins and shells push through brilliantly. Detail is outstanding, presenting the opportunity to carefully pore over the aquatic ballet for any and all nuances (though the film is not big on close-ups), while shadow detail is crisp and expressive, helping to define information further.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is a submerged event, with surrounds providing a needed sensation of oceanic depths, with bubbling and sound effects filling the environment. The film features mostly produced sound, leaving the listening experience crisp and direct, assisting the visuals with a consistent routine of alien noise. Scoring cues are strong, but frontal, and the narration is a bit too soft at times to make an impression, seemingly swallowed by the complex build of sound on the track.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are offered.
"Filming IMAX: Under the Sea" (7:17) is a promotional piece intended to sell the heck out of the IMAX shooting process and the idea of diving as the ultimate moviemaking adventure. Once the featurette turns over to BTS footage and intimidating technical achievements (the camera itself weighs over 1300 pounds), the entertainment value follows.
"Expeditions" (12:06) are a series of brief featurettes, covering the location shoots around Papua New Guinea and Australia.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
Matters aren't regulated to just crystal blue waters and frolicking sea lions, "Under the Sea" hopes to educate as well. I'm all for a little dollop of the sobering stuff during these IMAX events, but Hall bluntly shovels in the climate change message, breaking up the floating playfulness with chilling examples of fried coral reef and extinction-bound sea creatures. The mood shifts are jarring, turning something as well intentioned as this picture into a preachy drag. The environmental rape needs addressing, but not at the expense of a developing pace. The concern wounds the effectiveness of "Under the Sea," preventing it from a true knockout punch, scraping away the final push of awe in a brief film that needs all the majesty it can collect.
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