Shout! Factory has been releasing some impressive 4K UHD Blu-rays recently. All of them have been IMAX movies that look and sound just great. The latest offering is The Last Reef: Cities Beneath the Sea, a look at coral reefs and the animals that live in and around them. While this is just as eye-popping as the other 4K Imax releases, the story is a bit weaker than the others in the series but the visuals are just as arresting.
Starting out with the atomic bomb test on Bikini Atoll, and the famous swimwear that was named after the test site, the film starts to explore the reefs of the world and compares them to large cities. The comparison is apt: they both are home to a large number of inhabitants and energy is one of the main things that allow them to survive and grow.
The analogy breaks down a bit as the film progresses and they start to discuss how reefs fit into the ecosystem too. Some sharks, for example, spend their adolescent years in the shallow waters of a reef, only to head out into the open sea when they become adults. There are also hundreds of species that only live in reefs, they are like underwater rainforests. Unfortunately they, like the rainforests, are decreasing at an alarming rate due to pollution.
All of this is filled with gorgeous cinematography of these underwater cities. The visuals are absolutely amazing, with bright orange clownfish hiding in sea anemones, schools of colorful fish swimming through the coral, and some amazingly alien looking creatures such as the seemingly two-dimensional flatworms. There is also a segment on a saltwater lake that was part of the ocean at one time but became cut off. The jellyfish that live in the lake do not have any natural predators, so the population expanded drastically and the animals lost their stinging tendrils. Watching a girl swim through masses of these harmless floating creatures was really wonderful.
The only downside to this documentary is that the narrative leaves a bit to be desired. It jumps around too much from an atomic bomb test, to the beaches of France in the 1950's to modern large cities and below the ocean. The analogy comparing the ocean's reef with large cities is fine, but it doesn't carry through the whole film and even gets dropped on occasion (or changed as when they start comparing reefs to rainforests). This is a minor complaint, to be sure, but the previous IMAX nature documentaries that I've seen like Flight of the Butterflies and Humpback Whales seem to hold together better.
The 4K Blu-ray Set:
Shout! Factory has done a great job with this combo set, it has all: 4K, 3D Blu-ray, and Blu-ray on two discs (the 3D and 2D versions of the film share the same disc).
The 1.78:1 image is quite impressive across all three formats. It's not surprising that the 4K disc looks the best, but an added bonus is that Shout allows viewers the option of either HDR or SDR while watching the UDH disc. This is great for early adopters of 4K sets, as some of those do not have HDR capabilities. The 4K disc was quite impressive, with an astonishing amount of detail and exceptional colors. Everything from the wispy filaments on some of the coral to the scales on the colorful fish was clear and sharp. It's a very nice looking disc.
While the 4K disc was gorgeous, the 3D version of the film was very good too. There is a nice sense of depth as the camera moves through the coral reefs and fish swim in and out of the frame. Granted, the image is not quite as sharp and defined as the 4K version, but the 3D film gives a more immersive feeling.
This documentary arrives with a Dolby Atmos (core Dolby TrueHD 7.1) soundtrack. Given the nature of the movie, the mix is not a dynamic in-your-face, window-rattling, blast of sound. It's a more laid back track, with mainly dialog coming from the front and some nicely placed, quite sound effects (aquatic sounds, mainly) that emerge from the rest of the room. This is an appropriate soundtrack, as anything more would overwhelm the visuals and distract from the movie itself.
The disc also includes a series of short, behind-the-scenes videos that show something about how the movie was created. I would have preferred if these seven bits that run 2-3 minutes each were stitched together into one comprehensive featurette, but going with multiple short segements is the trend today, so it's understandable. There's also a picture gallery and a series of trailers for other IMAX 4K films that Shout! has released.
A beautiful and astonishing nature film that looks simply amazing in Ultra High Definition. If you're planning on getting a 4K set soon, this is still worth picking up now since the 3D and Blu-ray versions of the film also look great. Recommended.