Shot in the waters surrounding the Maldives Islands, "Fascination Coral Reef 3D: Hunters and the Hunted" is an hour-long special studying the animal life in the area. Director Rene Schopfer has already shot at least one other documentary in the same region ("Mysterious Worlds Underwater"), making this a sequel of sorts (although the dates and titles on his IMDb page are more than a little confusing).
As a documentary, "Hunters and the Hunted" is woefully unfocused, failing to contextualize the footage with much of a subject. Without even a minute of set-up, Schopfer dives right into his creature footage -- no information on Fascination Coral Reef (is this the actual name of a place or just the name of the documentary?) or the Maldives whatsoever (were the Maldives not randomly mentioned in the narration from time to time, I would have no idea where this feature was actually shot). Without giving the viewer a foothold on what the documentary is going to cover beyond "sea life in 3D," it takes a little while to settle into an already short program without feeling as if some piece of crucial information was skipped over.
Furthermore, Schopfer's footage is assembled without much flair or interest, leading to long patches of the documentary that drag. Since he himself has no focus, there's no real rhyme or reason to the way the footage has been lined up, drifting from topic to topic as the camera drifts from creature to creature. At times, it feels as if the narrator is literally improvising, changing the subject to whatever creature happens to be on screen. Moray eels, for example, are covered at about six different moments in the film, and some of the later appearances don't really shed any further light on the creature that hasn't already been discussed. There are also numerous times where the narrator explains a habit or trait of one of the creatures, as if to prepare the viewer for what they're about to see...only for nothing at all to happen, until Schopfer cuts to something else.
On the upside, Schopfer does have some beautiful imagery for the viewer to enjoy, particularly an extended sequence exploring a sunken ship that has been taken over by ocean creatures. He finds his moray eels in cracks and crevices in the ship, and a school of baby fish living in the hull. A number of interesting fish are shown, including a Napoleon (a massive hulking fish which drifts by in the background like a monster), and the details of a manta ray's feeding habits. Sadly, these moments of beauty are the exception, not the rule. With massive restructuring, "Hunters and the Hunted" would might be more fun to watch, but in its current state, it's a messy slog through pretty waters.
I always see these 3D Blu-Rays in the store and wonder what the fascination is with designers to use low-quality fonts on these nature documentary Blu-Rays, but most of them do. The art for "Hunters and the Hunted" also spotlights a fish that appears in the documentary for a whole 30 seconds, which is a strange choice. The single-disc release comes in a standard non-eco Blu-Ray case, with an insert promoting other Universal 3D releases inside the case, and a glossy non-embossed slip with identical front artwork and "uncluttered" rear art.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 1080p 3D, "Fascination Coral Reef" suggests "post-conversion" with its awkward visuals. The main issue in this presentation has to do with "breaking the plane": debris frequently floats directly in front of the lens, and this debris pops out of the screen, constantly jerking the viewer's focus away from the fish and into the extreme foreground -- a major distraction. As the film goes on, this problem starts to lessen, and the best part of the film is the best part of the 3D presentation: the shots inside the sunken ship display great depth, creating a wonderful sense of perspective in the abandoned compartments. There are also some fun scenes peering into moray eel caves. Although I stayed basically still during the presentation, crosstalk would occasionally become visible for no apparent reason, then disappear again moments later. Subtitles are not well-integrated, falling "into" the visuals and becoming hard to read while the 3D is on. The disc also includes an option to watch the film in 2D.
Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English track, which is perfectly adequate and nothing to write home about. It might as well be a stereo track, really: I didn't sense much coming out of the rear surround speakers, just the narration in the front and music and fish sounds out on the left and right. What is impressive, though, is the extensive list of audio and subtitle options on the disc: French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese DTS 5.1, French-Canadian, Latin American Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, and Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1, plus English SDH, French, French Canadian, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Bulgarian, Arabic, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Brazilian Portuguese, and Latvian subtitles. Phew!
None, although it could be argued that the "music-only" option is a special feature.
Universal has two 3D Blu-Rays about sea creatures streeting on the same day, and this one is easily the loser. Although there are some fascinating visuals on a sunken ship, it's not enough to make this doc worth watching. Skip it.
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