The latest in a long line of films from talented director Greg MacGillivray ("Everest", "Stormchasers", "Journey Into Amazing Caves"), "Coral Reef Adventure" has husband-and-wife diving team Howard and Michele Hall (Howard has been the director of 2 IMAX films himself, "Island of the Sharks" and "Into the Deep") journeying into the ocean depths to try and explore the coral reefs, educating the audience about the creatures that live there, some of the relationships between the creatures that live within, how the reefs provide homes for some of the more unusual creatures of the reef, and how the reefs can benefit humans (such as the source of medicines).
Unfortunately, the fragile reefs have also been destroyed or damaged in recent years, due to a number of issues, including ocean warming, pollution and overfishing. The Halls and director MacGillivray manage to turn this IMAX feature into both a visually stunning and educational feature, keeping a nice balance of education and entertainment. We learn how significant the loss of reefs have been over the past years and see some of the devastation close-up.
The Halls make good leads, projecting a sincerity (some people in IMAX fare present sincerity, but not passion for the subject; the Halls do both) and intelligence that make them compelling and believable presenters for the tragedy of the reef loss. In one dramatic sequence, Howard gets a severe case of the bends after a dive and nearly doesn't recover from the illness. In the later half of the film, the divers go down 350 feet into the darkness, a dangerous dive that eventually causes the cameras to break down. Michele has a funny moment where a little cleaner shrimp crawls into her mouth to play dentist.
The film includes a fun score by Crosby, Stills and Nash that fits with the film, as well as fine narration by Liam Neeson. Jean-Michel Cousteau and others are also featured. The DVD is a 2-DVD set. While the first DVD includes a regular edition of the film and bonus features, the second DVD is a High-Definition edition of the IMAX feature, playable on PCs that are capable (according to the DVD box, the requirements are: Windows XP, Windows Media Player 9, 2.4GHZ processor, 384MB of RAM, 64MB video card, 1024x768 resolution, 16-bit sound card and DVD-ROM drive). While my computer isn't quite up to that level, Image should be applauded for offering this option as an extra.
VIDEO: For this DVD release of "Coral Reef Adventure", Image Entertainment presents the film in both anamorphic widescreen (approx. 1.78:1) and full-frame editions. For this review, I viewed the anamorphic widescreen edition. Once again, Image has offered an outstanding presentation of IMAX material; while there's no arguement that large-screen IMAX material loses its impact on the small screen, this excellent transfer still manages to display remarkable clarity and detail. While the transfer is excellent overall, many of the brighter, outdoor sequences offer an exceptional level of depth and definition to the image.
I noticed very few flaws in the image during viewing of the film. A speck or two appeared on the print in a couple of scenes, while a tiny bit of edge enhancement was spotted. Other than that, the presentation remained smooth, clean and "film-like". Colors were vivid and beautifully rendered, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: "Coral Reef Adventure" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. I went back and forth in a few scenes to compare the audio quality of both options and found that the DTS track managed to offer more clarity and precision in regards to the score. As for the film's sound mix, it is not as "aggressive" as most IMAX soundtracks in delivering ambient/environment sounds, instead primarily using the surrounds to extend the nice, wide spread of the score (a mix of Crosby, Stills and Nash classics and some tribal music) further out into the room. The narration by Liam Neeson remained clear and easily understood throughout the presentation.
EXTRAS: An excellent 30-minute documentary offers interviews with the filmmakers, more information about the reef and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage that discuss how the filmmakers attempted to film in the dangerous deep diving situations. There are also more details about the terrifying moments that Howard encountered when he realized he had decompression sickness. As with the other IMAX "making of" documentaries that have been on other IMAX DVDs, this is a superb, in-depth and very informative feature that gives a terrific overview of the production.
Also included on the DVD is a nearly 30-minute "loop" of reef footage shot during "Coral Reef Adventure" that turns your TV into something of a virtual aquarium. In addition, there is a featurette on MacGillivray/Freeman films, trailers for other IMAX features, a bio for MacGillivray, movie trivia quiz and book recommendation.
Final Thoughts: "Coral Reef Adventure" is a terrific film that educates about not only the creatures that make the beautiful reefs their home, but how they benefit us and what hope we have to try and save them. The cinematography is fantastic and the balance of education and entertainment keep the pace moving along nicely. Recommended.