This short film from IMAX directed by Mal Wolfe isn't the best IMAX film you're ever going to see. This will certainly come as a disappointment to the many people out there fascinated with all things 'shark' hoping that this thirty-eight minute documentary would deliver all the eerie imagery and chilling tales sharkumentaries are known for. We get a bit of that, but not enough to save this one from the perils of bad reenactment acting and corny musical stingers.
The premise is decent enough - we're supposedly going to learn the truth about various sharks, how they hunt, whether they are merciless killing machines who only care about where their next meal comes from or if there's more to them than that. Input from various scientists, experts divers and oceanographers sets us up to accompany Dr. Eugenie Clark and shark attack survivor Rodney Fox on their excursion. We're told these two experts have been involved with sharks and studied them for decades and they certainly seem to know their stuff. Narration from Joseph Campanella fills in all the background info on our subjects as we could hope for and before you know it we're off out into the ocean.
Once the introduction and set up is over with, we then watch and learn about whale sharks and then do the same with great whites, but here it gets all disjointed and instead of focusing on the sharks themselves segues into bits about the habits of creatures they eat, and on the drama happening just above the water on the ship where our cast and crew reside. This was probably done in an attempt to humanize the film and give it characters we can relate to, but corny musical cues that sound like they were yanked out of Bernard Herrmann's waste basket almost push what should be a serious documentary into bad b-movie territory. Thankfully the movie redeems itself with the one surefire way to get shark fans to stand up and take notice, and that's with the underwater footage. Once Fox suits up and goes overboard, and we along with him, the movie hits its stride, but this doesn't happen soon enough or often enough for this to stand above the other shark related documentaries that have turned up everywhere from the BBC to the Discovery Channel since this one was made in 1995.
The short running time of the feature results in some choppy editing and unusual transitions, meaning scenes run into one another for no reason and that the film doesn't flow like you might hope it would. The footage that the IMAX underwater team have captured here is as magnificent as you would want it to be, but the way in which that footage is presented within the context of the story being told here just feels out of place.
The Search For The Great Sharks is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition 1.78.1 widescreen. Generally things look pretty good here, and the brief running time probably helps keep those compression artifacts in check. The image is clean and colorful and well detailed and while it doesn't quite hit the euphoric visual heights of some of the more recent nature documentaries to debut on the format, it certainly offers quite a bit more depth and texture than standard definition would be able to provide. Color reproduction looks good, black levels are stable, and there doesn't appear to be any noise reduction or edge enhancement issues of note.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is pretty good, though don't expect much more than the score to be spread around through the mix. Dialogue comes out of the front with proper clarity and levels are well balanced throughout. Bass response isn't as strong as it could be but you'll notice the lower end of the score has some nice punch to it, and that the musical cues used to build suspense throughout the film have a bit of zip to them.
Extras are almost non-existent, and all we get are a few trailers for other, unrelated IMAX releases, menus and chapter stops. Oddly enough, the trailer for the feature itself is nowhere to be found.
The Search For The Great Sharks is visually impressive and contains some really fantastic underwater footage of various sharks in their natural habitat - but so too does it include some poorly done reenactments and badly acted dramatic scenes. These two warring factions basically balance this one out, meaning that shark completists will enjoy it simply for the footage it contains while everyone else can safely live without it. The fact that it's as short as it is and as light on extra features as it is doesn't help, but at least it looks and sounds pretty good. Meh. Rent it. You could do a lot better, but at least the cinematography is great.
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.