As the world's yearly weather cycle changes, it affects all the animals whose lifestyle is dependent on the weather. One of these animals is the polar bear, whose window for building up fat by eating has slowly eroded. "Ice Bear" follows a single teenage polar bear on his first summer alone, as he tries to survive on less-than-optimal fat reserves, warmer temperatures than he is accustomed to, all sorts of land-based predators, and other unexpected changes changes to his environment. Documentarians Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson co-direct this story.
Universal has three 3D nature docs coming out on the same day. The first, "Fascination Coral Reef 3D: The Hunters and the Hunted", drifts too far into observation, while the second, "Ocean Predators 3D", succeeds by being educational. "Polar Bears 3D: Ice Bear" lands in the middle, finding a decent berth between observing the polar bear, complete with artistic narration, and education, filling the viewer in on why the polar bear's environment has changed over the years and the reasons it will need to adapt in order to survive.
Ravetch and Robertson craft a narrative around their bear, named "Ice Bear", a young teen learning how to survive on his own. Along the way, they also spend time tracking a mother and her cubs, in order to inform the viewer on what their teenaged protagonist ought to already know. The stories successfully weave in and out of each other without too much artifice interjected by the narrator (Bray Poor). The co-directors are confident -- and correct -- that the changing world is enough of a challenge for their "characters." The main concern for these bears is food, especially the mother who is busy nursing two young cubs.
The story, however, is simply a clothesline on which the two directors hang a wealth of impressive footage, never shying away from some cruel and unforgiving aspects of nature. In one spectacular scene, we watch a third grown bear (neither the mother or the Ice Bear) sneak up on a crowd of sleeping walruses, hoping to score some dinner. Later, we see the carcass of a bear that didn't make it, which becomes lunch for another dying compatriot. As for the Ice Bear himself, there's a sequence where he climbs a dizzying cliffside just to eat a couple of measly birds, as well as extensive intimate footage of him swimming across one of the Great Lakes. Human interaction is also present, as some scientists drop in to attach a camera to the mother bear as she and her cubs enter a forest for protection, and the ice bear wanders through a tourist area where people fly in to take photos of live polar bears.
The journey of the Ice Bear is a simple but engaging story that will not only educate the viewer on the polar bear's lifestyle, but also the way the world around the polar bear is changing. Without pressing the issue too heavily, "Ice Bear" also manages to convey a sense of concern for the bear and the way human beings are affecting its environment. It's a simple but loving portrait, captured with a surprising frankness.
This icy-looking artwork depicting a mother and her two cubs is arguably misleading, since it doesn't hint that most of the movie takes place on dry land during the summer. They've also gone and retitled the film "Polar Bears 3D: Ice Bear", probably to distinguish the film from the 2013 documentary Ice Bear, which is about sculpture. The disc comes in a standard non-eco Blu-Ray case, with an insert advertising other Universal 3D titles, and a non-embossed cardboard slipcover featuring identical art on the front and "clean" artwork on the back.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 1080p 3D, this is the most complicated of the three 3D nature docs Universal is putting out. Due to the increased physical intensity of the action captured in the film, the flaws in the digital video used on the film are more apparent than in the other two features, with more blown-out highlights, jagged edges, source artifacting, and digital edge haloes. Furthermore, this low-quality HD video can affect the quality of the HD, most noticeably when the bear is climbing the cliffs to eat birds. Not only do the aerial shots practically look 2D, the hail of birds flying into the water simply looks like noise in 3D. That said, later segments, when the camera is more still, are stunning to look at with the additional dimension; one shot, of a wolf standing across a field watching the ice bear, is a brief but high watermark. The disc is also encoded to be played back in 2D.
Sound is a DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 track. I'm not sure I would know what to look for that differentiates a standard DTS-HD Master Audio track and a High Resolution track, but this sounds just fine to me. Unlike the other two Universal 3D nature docs, this has more use for the surround, such as the scene with the birds, as well as a number of scenes in the water, and a siege on a pack of walruses, which do spread out to the rear channels. Still, the core of the track is just like the others: narration in the center, with most of the music and environmental cues on the left and right front speakers. Also, like the other discs, the disc is stacked with audio and subtitle options: French, German, Castilian Spanish, Italian, Japanese DTS 5.1, Latin American Spanish, Russian, Brazilian Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, and Polish Dolby Digital 5.1, and English SDH, French, Italian, German, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Arabic, Czech, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, and Brazilian Portuguese subtitles.
Two extras are included. A selection of deleted and extended scenes (10:03, presented in 3D) are first. These narration-free clips are not particularly interesting, although the last shows the cameramen in action, using an RC car with a camera on it to capture the ice bear.
This is followed by a making-of featurette (13:34, 2D HD) is basically an extended on-set interview with co-director Adam Ravetch. It's not the most enlightening behind-the-scenes piece, primarily focused on Ravetch's opinion of the beautiful imagery they're capturing, but there is a snippet of some actual behind-the-scenes info on the techniques used to film the bears. This extra also ends with 2 minutes of further polar bear footage; I wouldn't be surprised if there was a mistake and this clip is meant to be part of the deleted and extended scenes.
"Polar Bears 3D: Ice Bear" may not be a definitive or comprehensive documentary about polar bears, but it's an engaging little narrative that should enchant viewers young and old. The 3D is hit-and-miss, but when it hits, it's quite spectacular. Recommended.
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