What might have sounded as if it would be a travel guide for the state of California really has turned out to be one of the more entertaining IMAX films I've seen in recent memory. A fine marriage of information, awe-inspiring scenery and fun moments, "Adventures in Wild California" is another winner from consistently busy large-format filmmaker Greg MacGillivray ("Everest", "The Living Sea" and others).
The film focuses on several inhabitants of the state, as well as its history and beautiful scenery. Moments of the film are simply fun; we hear more about the career of Walt Disney from Roy Disney and ride along on one of the theme park's roller coasters. There's also a sequence where the IMAX camera walks up the red carpet on Oscar night, allowing the viewer to experience what it's like to have news crews leaning in for an interview. The rest of the documentary focuses more on the wildlife and history of the state, watching as a tree scientist first scales a 300-foot tree, then goes down hundreds of feet into the roots of the tree. Two other scenes are fascinating, but certainly not for those afraid of heights - a scientist drops a baby Bald Eagle back into his nest, but the only thing is - he's being held by a rope under a helicopter as he's flown to the cliff-top nest. The most dizzying sequence involves a bridge worker who travels out onto one of the support poles of the Golden Gate bridge and looks downwards.
"Adventures in Wild California" did exceed my expectations and ranks as another terrific effort from MacGillivray to boldly go to where other IMAX filmmakers haven't gone before.
VIDEO: Image Entertainment presents "Wild California" in both a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen edition and a full_frame edition on this release. The picture quality of the anamorphic widescreen edition continues Image's continued excellence in their attempt to present the best possible image quality of IMAX films on the small screen. More and more studios are presenting IMAX titles on DVD, but Image's titles remain the only ones that I've seen that really lose the least amount of the visual experience in the translation from the towering IMAX screens to the home theater. Sharpness and detail on "Wild California" is absolutely exceptional, with a superb amount of depth to the image, which really makes scenes like one that involves coming down from the top of a 300 foot tree still thrilling, even at home.
There are nearly no flaws to the presentation. I saw a couple of minor specks a few times during the course of the 40 minute film, but they were so brief that I certainly didn't find them at all distracting. No pixelation was noticed and edge enhancement was also absent from the proceedings.
Colors were the most impressive element of the presentation, as they looked almost impossibly beautiful, appearing gloriously vibrant, bold and well-saturated, with no instances of smearing or other concerns. Truly a splendid effort from Image, who strongly continues their reputation as the strongest provider of IMAX titles for DVD.
SOUND: "Adventures in Wild California" is presented in both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio for the anamorphic widescreen edition and Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French and Spanish for the full_frame edition.
IMAX pictures usually present an agressive soundtrack to put the viewer into the middle of the experience of what's going on on-screen and "Adventures in Wild California" is no different; although it's soundtrack isn't quite as agressive as some IMAX films that I've heard, it still does present a very enjoyable and active sound experience. One of the most remarkable audio sequences in the film revolves around two sky-surfers. One of them starts spinning mid-air and the sounds of the board spiraling through the air fill the room, bringing the viewer at least as close to the experience as they can get watching it in their viewing room. There are several other sequences that do put the surrounds to fine use, as naturalistic sound effects surround the viewer convincingly.
Last, but certainly not least, the film boasts a terrific score by Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham - the film even starts off with "Go Your Own Way". His score comes through wonderfully during the entire film, often filling the listening space, but not getting in the way of other sounds or the narration by Jimmy Smits, which also comes through clearly. If not the most impressive of IMAX soundtracks, "Wild California" certainly didn't miss any opportunities for creative audio to bring the viewer into the experience. Both soundtracks deliver quite well, although the DTS edition provides a slightly richer sound overall.
MENUS:: Basic, non-animated menus that essentially use film-themed images and cover art.
Making Of: As with all of the IMAX titles I've seen from Image Entertainment, a detailed and well-produced documentary (this one running 22 minutes) is included, offering behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. As with any of the IMAX features, the filmmakers accept the facts that they are going to run into more risks than many normal pictures do. We see up-close footage of the incredible planning that goes into taking the large IMAX cameras into places like are shown in this picture, such as enormous waves - it's rightly referred to as "stunt camerawork". A lot of times audiences often wonder how IMAX filmmakers were able to get incredible shots of action on places where you'd think it's impossible to film - but documentaries like this one and other documentaries on Image IMAX titles really do a nice job of showing the viewer the creative and sometimes dangerous ways that these filmmakers get the shot they need.
Also: Text science experiment and director's bio.
Final Thoughts: One of the most fun and entertaining IMAX films that I've seen in quite a while, "Adventures in Wild California" provides both interesting information about the environment and some awe-inspiriing scenery that's beautifully presented by Image Entertainment's anamorphic widescreen transfer offered here. A stellar soundtrack in Dolby Digital or DTS and a very nice "making of" documentary round out a package that's definitely a high recommendation for IMAX fans.