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Fascination Coral Reef: Mysterious Worlds Underwater
Underwater documentaries are one thing that 3D was made for- how could they not be when you've got cameras near the bottom of the ocean, fish swimming around everywhere and exotic plants? "Mysterious Worlds Underwater" actually just focuses on one particular mysterious world, that of the coral reefs in the Indian Ocean near the Maldive Islands (a bit south of India according to the map I looked at- necessary to place exactly where this was as the cameras don't waste any time above the ocean's surface.)
Basically this plays like most underwater/nature documentaries you might have seen on public television- the cameras linger on various lifeforms such as fish, turtles, or plants while a narrator gives a bit of information about them. One of the first focuses here is on the sea anemones, plant-like animals which anchor themselves underwater and feed off of some types of fish (trapping them somewhat like a venus flytrap) while having a mutually beneficial relationship with clownfish (whom you might remember from Finding Nemo) which keep the anemones and their surroundings clean while the anemones provide an escape from predators. The narrator also explains that the clownfish live in groups with only one female, but if she gets eaten one of the males can simply change his sex and replace her. I'd like to see a story where that happens with humans!
We're then treated to several more types of fish and plants, as well as turtles. The narrator gives us more interesting facts about these, speaking in a calm tone and using metaphors quite often (he describes the coral reefs as "A richly laid table, no wonder there are so many diners.") I was mostly too swept up in the visuals to give him much attention during the first viewing however, finding the view simply hypnotic and relaxing. There are many moments where the camera remains fixed in one place for over a minute and the narrator isn't afraid to remain silent, letting you take everything in. A mellow new-agey music track by Paul Welch, driven mainly by acoustic guitar and keyboards, accompanies the proceedings.
I did wonder about the actual production, not having been deep-sea diving myself. I've heard that fish are easily startled, so it would be interesting to know how much time the camera operators had to spend underwater in order to get the shots we see here, where most of the lifeforms act as they normally do. I also wonder whether it's as relaxing to observe everything while really being there as it is for me watching from my sofa.
The 1080p 3D picture (at 24 frames per second) is nicely detailed, although the greenish tint on many of the fish and plants hides their natural colors. The 3D provides a great sense of what it might be like to actually be there. Close-ups of plants feel like you can reach out and touch them, backgrounds appear like you are looking at them deep within your screen, and of course the fish swimming every which way provide a great sense of depth as well. Those who expect to see fish swimming right into their living rooms may be disappointed. Aside from a turtle getting close to the camera, the only things here that really extend beyond the screen are the bubbles and what-have-you floating around in the water, but overall this is a very nice 3D experience. Think of it as looking into an aquarium the size of the ocean. The option to watch in 2D is also included, though sampling that it isn't nearly the same experience.
The main track is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. As mentioned earlier, the mellow music score greatly complements the underwater visuals. On my system it appeared to hit more low frequencies than I was used to however, forcing me to adjust my receiver to keep my speakers from distorting, and even after that they seemed to rattle some nearby objects. Besides the narrator and music, some underwater "bubbling" effects are heard which extend slightly into the surround channels.
In addition to English, TEN other languages are available in either standard 5.1 DTS or Dolby Digital: Traditional and Canadian French, Italian, Castilian and Latin American Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian and Turkish. Subtitles include these languages plus Bulgarian, Arabic, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Swedish, Estonian, Icelandic, Korean, Mandarin and Thai. German is notably absent, odd considering this was a German production and so many other languages were included.
The only "extra" here is a music-only track of Paul Welch's score with no narration. Unfortunately it's only in 2-channel Dolby Digital, but it may end up being the track I normally go to when watching this multiple times, as it allows the viewer to truly relax and just enjoy the visuals.
Every 3D collection should include at least one underwater title; although I have not yet seen enough to judge which one is the very best of all of them, "Mysterious Worlds Underwater" certainly looks very nice in 3D and serves as great demo material. Not being hard-core into marine biology I found the narrated information interesting as well, but overall this is one of those discs that many will want to just relax and look at without thinking too much, allowing themselves to get lost in the underwater world. I have watched this twice so far (listening to the French audio the second time), and both times had to take a nap immediately afterwards- not by any means from boredom, but from being put into such a relaxed state of consciousness.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.