40 minutes isn't a lot of time to explore a documentary subject, but most fans of IMAX are just in it for the eye candy. To The Arctic is no different than most of these super-sized productions, serving up a crystal-clear view of a climate that most audiences wouldn't ever dream of traveling to (heck, most of us Northerners are angry because it snowed yesterday). At its core, To The Arctic is a fuzzy-wuzzy tale of three polar bears---a mother and her twin cubs---and their struggle for survival against predators and the harsh, snowy landscape. Expectedly, the latter is paired with a grim reminder about the melting ice caps, but it's not as heavy-handed as you'd expect. Along the way, To The Arctic balances its polar bear spotlight with a glimpse at other wildlife affected by climate change, including walruses and caribou.
Narrated by Meryl Streep, To The Arctic's only handicap---aside for its length, of course---is the feeling that we've seen it before. Though it differs slightly in tone, the glut of "extreme climate" documentaries popularized by films like March of the Penguins all but guarantees that only the youngest audiences might be seeing something new. No doubt everyone else will just be in it for the eye candy, which To The Arctic delivers in spades. The fantastic cinematography translates perfectly on this reference-quality Blu-ray release, which also includes a 3D option that represents the theatrical presentation at select IMAX locations. If you never saw To The Arctic on the giant screen, this is certainly the next best thing.
A stripped-down DVD/digital copy edition is also available separately, but this two-disc release also serves up Blu-ray 2D and 3D versions for a few bucks more. Unfortunately, both options are extremely overpriced for the amount of content you're getting, which (including the bonus features) clocks in at about an hour. Sure, it's probably cheaper than four IMAX tickets...but hey, what Blu-ray isn't?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
It's not hard to create a flawless high-definition image with IMAX source material, and To The Arctic maintains its perfection from start to finish. This 1.78:1 image is crisp, detailed and colorful, revealing wonderful textures and a lifelike appearance. Skin (and fur) tones are accurate, black levels remain steady and no glaring digital manipulation has been applied. To The Arctic is reference-quality material that fans of all ages will appreciate, especially those with larger displays and/or 1080p projectors. It's also worth noting that a Blu-ray 3D version is also included, if you've got the appropriate equipment.
DISCLAIMER: This review's images are from the included DVD copy and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is equally impressive, creating a wide soundstage that crackles with natural ambience. Narration is crisp and well-recorded, music cues are dynamic and channel separation is particularly impressive. LFE is also quite noticeable in certain sequences...and though this obviously isn't a consistently thunderous presentation, it's about as captivating and immersive as documentaries get. Optional English (SDH), French and Spanish subtitles are provided during the main feature and extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen below (from the included DVD), the menu designs offer smooth navigation and fast loading times. This 40-minute main feature has been divided into just five chapters, no layer change was detected and these discs appear to be locked for Region 1/A playback only. Both discs are housed in a dual-hubbed keepcase with single-sided cover artwork, a matching slipcover and a digital copy redemption code.
Not much, and what's here is your average promotional-type EPK stuff. Six Featurettes represent the bulk of it with a total running time off less than 20 minutes. Together, these short snippets (entitled "Pristine", "Life Under Water", "The Challenges of Filming in the Arctic", "To the Arctic with Meryl Streep", "A Polar Bear Family" and "Welcome to the Arctic") are fairly self-explanatory and briefly focus on the general production, the "cast"/crew experience and obvious difficulty of shooting in extreme climates. Also included is the film's Theatrical Trailer which, like the featurettes, is presented in full 1080p.
A DVD (with partial extras) and Ultraviolet Digital Copy are also included, if that does anything for you.
To The Arctic is fine family fare if you're in the mood for a chilly trip up North...but within the scope of existing IMAX documentaries, this isn't a top-tier production. Most everything about it feels a bit too familiar and surface-level, though the latter criticism is almost assumed with any 40-minute documentary. Warner Bros.' combo pack serves up four (count 'em!) versions in one shot, including Blu-ray 2D, 3D, DVD and a digital copy...but even with a few short extras tacked on, the $45 sticker price will rightfully keep casual fans at bay. It even makes the Peanuts boxed sets look cheap by comparison. Rent It first.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.