The best nature documentaries combine compelling footage with informative narration or commentary and use the visuals to tell a story. IMAX, the BBC and Discovery Channel spoil audiences with a steady stream of great nature programming, so it's almost inevitable that Fascination Coral Reef 3D doesn't cut it. Compared to Planet Earth it's amateurish; a collection of uninteresting underwater shots set to dismal narration. The water is murky, the subjects fleeting, and the entire affair is tedious.
Fascination Coral Reef 3D is one part of a German nature series. This piece concerns coral reefs and the surrounding ecosystem, which is full of fish, turtles, sharks and plant life. The documentary provides some cursory information about reefs - but nothing about pollution or location - and then focuses on random inhabitants. The camera pans lazily through cloudy water until it spots a fish, then the narrator provides some Wikipedia-grade facts. There is no overarching theme or story, and each fish is as mundane as the next.
Beautiful footage often speaks for itself, but Fascination Coral Reef 3D might have easily been shot by an amateur scuba diver. The framing, composition and editing is unimpressive, and the dim waters sully the mood. There isn't a single standout shot, and the filmmakers apparently shot at random. It shows, because the camera never captures any marine life cooler than a sea turtle. Somehow, this documentary makes a vibrant marine environment feel utterly pedestrian. If you told me they stuck a camera into an office aquarium I would probably believe you. The generic techno background music only makes things worse.
It's unfair to compare every nature documentary to its high production value counterparts on Discovery, but Fascination Coral Reef 3D likely won't hold your attention for forty-some odd minutes. Even if you are only looking for a high-definition screen saver for your massive LCD screen, look elsewhere for brighter, more impressive footage. Fascination Coral Reef 3D is far from fascinating.
The Blu-ray includes 1.78:1/1080p transfers in both 2D/AVC and 3D/MVC. The 3D image is OK; there is a lot of separation between foreground and background, which gives the image depth. Fish appear to swim outside the screen, providing that cursory 3D "pop," but the overall image is somewhat dull and flat. Detail is only average, and there is quite a bit of ghosting when the camera moves between plants and coral structures. The 2D transfer suffers from the same mediocre camerawork, and detail and texture are about the same.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is fine, and it supports the narration with clear, balanced dialogue. The music and underwater sounds sneak into the surround speakers occasionally, but there is nothing particularly dynamic about this mix. The LFE comes to life occasionally, though not always appropriately. There are a ton of alternate language tracks: 5.1 DTS tracks in Italian, Castilian Spanish, French and Japanese; and 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in Brazilian, Portuguese, Czech, Los Angeles Spanish, Hungarian, Turkish and French Canadian. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Bulgarian, Arabic, Los Angeles Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Arabic, Portuguese, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Swedish, Turkish, Estonian, Icelandic, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Thai, and French Canadian. Phew!
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
No extras, but the Blu-ray comes packed in a standard Blu-ray case and wrapped in a matching slipcover. Universal's new picture menus substitute symbols for words so you can guess which symbol leads to chapter selections, subtitles, etc.
Fascination Coral Reef 3D is an underwhelming documentary marred by unimpressive underwater footage and D-grade narration. The film fails to tell a compelling story or at least overwhelm viewers with beautiful visuals. It kind of feels like someone took a camera, stuck it underwater and then made up some facts about the fish that happened to swim by. The 3D presentation isn't particularly impressive either, so you can definitely Skip It.
William lives in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.