If you can't get enough of The History Channel's super popular series The Universe, why not head down instead of up and check out Underwater Universe, an equally sensationalist and scary series that focuses not on the stars above but on a much closer menace - the ocean! This two disc DVD collection contains all five episodes of the series made so far, each one as scary, if not scarier, than the one before it and out to convince us that the ocean and everything in it is out to get us. Now, to be fair, as sensationalist and 'doom and gloom' as all of this is, the series does make for very interesting viewing and like the series that inspired it, makes good use of CGI graphics, scientist and expert testimony and actual footage of freaky ocean related disasters and catastrophes to keep us watching. You can and will learn from this series and it's well laid out and consistently interesting - just keep in mind as you watch it that these guys are going for the scare more than they're going for good old fashioned education.
The episodes that make up Underwater Universe are spread out as follows:
Killer Shockwaves: There are three kinds of abnormal waves generated by the ocean, and those are Rogue, Monster and Tsunami - each one more increasingly disastrous than the one before it. Here we learn how Rogue waves wrecked a boat and almost killed the three men inside, how a Monster wave succeeded in killing a surfer, and how a Tsunami destroyed the coast of an island where a cute Peace Corp volunteer and her little dog were living. We also learn how and why these three types of waves occur, at least we learn as much as we can - if they weren't scary enough as it is, the fact that we don't completely understand them makes them even more terrifying.
Predators Of The Deep: This episode gives us all the dirt on the five deadliest underwater predators, ranked by how often they attack and kill humans. Disturbing footage of Orca Whales thrashing seals sets the tone before we then learn about Great White Sharks, Giant Squid, the uber-terrifying Salt Water Crocodiles and the incredibly venomous Box Head Jellyfish. Grisly photos of injuries a girl sustained when she got entangled in the tentacles of one of those Jellyfish seal the deal and will deter you from swimming near the ocean ever again.
Tides And Currents Of Death: This episode explains how the rotation of the Earth and the gravitation forces that control it are eventually going to wipe us all off the planet by causing massive tides and currents, of death, that will lay waste to everything. From there we learn about four of the deadliest tides on the planet, from England to Kauai before learning about The Great Ocean Conveyor which destroyed eighty percent of life on the planet roughly two hundred and fifty million years ago.
Fatal Pressure: Pressure is the one factor that has consistently stopped humans from exploring the very depths of the world's oceans and while our technology has improved to the point where we've made great strides here, the pressure of the ocean in its deepest parts is still enough to crush us. This episode teaches us all about fun pressure related problems such as the bends, nitrogen narcosis and many more. If you've ever wondered how you could die from ocean related pressure, this is the episode for you.
Underwater Universe: The only episode on the second disc in this two disc set, this is basically a ninety minute pilot that gives us very top level views of all sorts of things that the ocean can terrify us with. Here we learn about storm surges, hurricanes, cyclones, simple drowning, whirlpools, ice flows, underwater volcanoes and many more frightening things that will eventually destroy us if the scientists interviewed here are to be believed. There's all sorts of evidence presented here to prove that the oceans of the world are becoming angrier and more dangerous than ever before. We're pretty much doomed.
Each of the shows in the collection is presented in anamorphic widescreen, preserving the original broadcast aspect ratio of the material. The picture, sadly, is interlaced. Video quality is quite solid despite some softness here and there. Some of the episodes don't look quite as good as some of the others but for the most part the picture quality is strong. There are no issues with print damage to report, and there aren't any problems with heavy compression artifacts. A bit of edge enhancement is noticeable here and there but it's never overpowering nor is it particularly distracting. None of this material is reference quality, but it all certainly looks very decent.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks that are supplied for each and every one of the episodes in this collection sound clean and clear. No alternate dubbed tracks or subtitles of any kind have been supplied but the quality of the audio is just fine. Hiss and distortion are never an issue and while there are a few spots here and there were some of the on location audio isn't crystal clear because of weather conditions or surroundings, it's never a problem understanding what's being said.
Well, if you include the 'pilot' Underwater Universe episode as a bonus there's that, but otherwise this release is barebones, including only static menus, episode selection, and chapter selection for each episode.
Underwater Universe tends to go for the more sensationalist approach to the world that exists beneath the waves and ripples of our water, lakes and oceans but if nothing else it's interesting stuff. Sure, it'll probably keep you up at night worrying about crocodiles, tsunamis and getting rocked by a giant wave the next time you go for a swim, but such is life. History Channel's presentation looks and sounds okay even if it could have looked better, though the lack of extras stings a little bit. Those with an interest in the material can consider this casually recommended, everyone else is likely best served with a rental first.
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.