There have been many deep-sea documentaries, but rarely is there one narrated by a turtle. "Ocean Wonderland" is a 2003 IMAX release that employs a whimsical storytelling method to pull viewers in tightly, observing a big blue community through the eyes of its most passive resident. Considering the agreeable but formulaic structure of the picture, any sort of unusual deviation from the norm is most welcome.
Directed by Jean-Jacques Mantello, "Ocean Wonderland" dives into the vast world of coral life, taking a closer look at the inner workings of the aquatic universe, watching how various creatures employ the multicolored area, going about their daily business hunting for food and avoiding predators. The gimmick here is the turtle POV, which lightens the mood considerably, avoiding a solemn regurgitation of facts and figures to float aimlessly around the area, generating a feeling of tourism -- a sort of Hollywood star homes bus ride for the ocean.
Supported with a peaceful score by Christophe Jacquelin and expectedly gorgeous cinematography from Gavin McKinney, "Ocean Wonderland" stays on a steady pace of discovery, meeting numerous creatures on the move. The cameos are numerous: dolphins, swimming up to the camera without any sense of fear; the Napoleon wrasse, a 400-pound fish that's always prowling for a meal; sea snakes wiggling around the water; eagle rays "flying" in formation; sharks stalking the deep; and schools of fish carrying on as though performing in a ballet. We also visit immense fields of coral, taking in the color, the history, and eccentricity of the life that calls the reef home.
Mantello doesn't provide an overwhelming portrait of a community at work, but the picture keeps to a soothing rhythm, respecting the exploratory genre and its visual highlights. Our turtle guide is excited to point out the beauty and threat of life on the reef, and the film remains in a happy place for the most part, refusing harsh circle of life reminders to play peacefully with neighborhood mainstays.
The AVC encoded image (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation successfully launches viewers into deep waters, with a colorful HD viewing experience that holds to its IMAX origins. Colors are dominated by various shades of blue, but the natural splendor of the creatures is effectively captured, with yellows and reds making a strong impression, provided satisfactory separation. Shadow detail is firm and supportive, with low-light excursions looking crisp. Clarity is healthy, supplying a pleasing read of textures and behaviors. There's also a 3D presentation of the film included on this BD.
The 5.1 DTS-HD HR sound mix is a confident exploration of scoring cues, with the music firm and lush, filling the track with a pronounced impression of dramatic intention. Narration is crisp and frontal, leading the track with a charming verbal weight. Directionals are active, with the surrounds providing a sensation of movement and water pressure, imparting the listener with a feel for reef particulars. 10 additional language tracks are included.
English SDH and 20 additional subtitle options are offered.
"Ocean Wonderland" does dial down joy for the climax, imparting a tough ecological message about the protection of the coral reefs, reinforcing their place in nature where so many species depend on their integrity. It's a statement Mantello gracefully makes, adding a critical punctuation point to an otherwise breezy, illuminating IMAX adventure.