The Living Sea
Image // G // $24.98 // November 11, 2008
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 19, 2008
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Although it continues to remain highly regarded by fans of IMAX films, I still feel "The Living Sea" doesn't rank among the best large-format fare. Still, there are a number of fine moments, as the film tries to show us both the inhabitants of the world's oceans and our relationship with them. Surprisingly, the film doesn't go into great depth about any one scene, instead providing an array of beautiful sequences that are backed by a rather limited amount of narration by Meryl Streep.

The narration by Streep is perfectly pleasant in tone, but doesn't offer much depth or a great deal of personality. Instead of providing richer insights that build towards a greater understanding for the audience, the narration often feels like one solitary factoid after another. We also get lines like, "Our relationship with the sea is seldom very deep; most of our contact with it takes place on the surface."

The lack of development to any one section of the film is frustrating; we go from following a coast guard conducting drills to a surfer in what feels like a couple of minutes, not really getting a full sense of the duties of the coast guard before moving onto surfing scenes that skim the surface like a lost "Endless Summer" outtake. The film simply needs focus, offering up an assortment of sea-related topics, but not smoothly transitioning between the different segments.

This is undoubtedly a beautifully photographed film, showing stunning image after stunning image. However, the best documentaries on the IMAX format manage to balance a helping of gorgeous visuals with education, and I still feel this film leans too much towards images. Sting's score is light and rather forgettable, not giving the film much energy - instead, it winds up making the viewing experience a little too relaxing.


VIDEO: "Living Sea" is presented in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC) by Image Entertainment. Once again, Image Entertainment delivers with a very fine presentation of this 13-year-old large-format flick. While sharpness and detail were somewhat inconsistent, a number of sequences offered impressive sharpness and detail, not to mention terrific depth to the image. Some minor specks and marks were seen on the print on occasion, but the majority of the film looked crisp and clean. No edge enhancement or other concerns were spotted. The film's bright, often eye-popping color palette was presented superbly here, with rendered colors, terrific saturation and excellent clarity. While not without some concerns, this was largely a solid presentation.

SOUND: Given the material, it's not surprising that the film's sound design isn't among the most aggressive IMAX sound mixes. The DTS-HD 5.1 presentation is still quite enjoyable, however. Surrounds do flare up nicely during a few notable sequences, such as the coast guard sequences, where waves slam against the boat and water splashes across the deck and over the sides. It's a wonderfully convincing sequence in terms of audio, as the sense of space is terrific and the waves crash and spray washes into the rear speakers. Other sequences don't put the surrounds to quite as heavy use, mainly using the rear speakers for some minor ambiance or light reinforcement of the score. Audio quality is marvelous, with crisp, clear narration.

EXTRAS: Image does really fine work putting together a nice extras presentation for their IMAX discs, and this is no exception. First off, there are 11 trailers for other IMAX titles from the studio. Also, there are text notes about the director.

The main extra, though, is the "Making-Of" documentary, which, at 37 minutes, is only a few minutes shorter than the movie itself. There have been a number of excellent documentaries about the making of IMAX films, and this is one of the better ones I've watched - I found it more interesting than the movie itself. There are a number of in-depth interviews with the producer and director that take us through all of the steps of making an IMAX film like this one. The documentary takes us through all of the problems that the production had to go through, especially when filming underwater.

Final Thoughts: While it offers stunning images, "The Living Sea" comes up short in terms of information on the subject matter. It's certainly not the worst IMAX documentary, but it does suffer from more than a few flaws. The Blu-Ray edition offers excellent image quality, very good audio and a few solid extras. Those looking for an underwater IMAX feature would be advised to check out "Coral Reef Adventure" or "Deep Sea".

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