Ocean Wonderland 3D Blu-ray offers decent video and great audio, but overall it's a mediocre Blu-ray release
Ocean wonderland 3D is the first 3D Large Format underwater movie entirely shot using digital technology. Thanks to this technology, the film was shot almost entirely with natural light, thus showing for the first time the underwater world as it exactly is. This is the closest you can get to dive without being there! Shot on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and in the Bahamas, Ocean Wonderland 3D brings to you the amazing beauty of the many varieties of coral and the immense diversity of the marine life thriving there. The mission of the film is to underline the crucial ecological role of coral reefs play in maintaining the well being of our planet, and to point out and warn against the dangers that are destroying the world's coral reefs.
For more about Ocean Wonderland 3D and the Ocean Wonderland 3D Blu-ray release, see Ocean Wonderland 3D Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 29, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
For an IMAX film titled Ocean Wonderland 3D, I expected... I don't know, a bit of wonder. Unfortunately, Ocean Wonderland glides through the not-so-deep at a maddening pace and rarely, if ever, inspires any sense of wonder (other than what one might associate with a well-crafted screensaver). Perhaps Planet Earth and other BBC Natural History Unit documentaries have set the bar too high. Perhaps it was my expectations that were set too high. Or maybe I just forgot that many IMAX mini-docs seem to amount to lowest-common-denominator museum fodder. Whatever the case, Ocean Wonderland is a rather generic, 40-minute, family-friendly slog that isn't primed to entrance children, engage adults or appeal to anyone hoping for an entertaining, educational plunge beneath the waves.
Mountains of coral...
Okay, okay. Ocean Wonderland isn't quite that bland, but it certainly doesn't have much flavor either. Told entirely from the perspective of a chummy British sea turtle voiced by Geoffrey Bateman, the film idles as the amiable reptile chats about coral, a variety of decidedly common fish species, sting and eagle rays, sunken ships and their new caretakers, sharks, dolphins and, of course, turtles. But our friendly neighborhood guide, our ear-pleasing narrator or writer Mark Spalding seem all that interested in providing any worthwhile information on the creatures that inhabit the deep. Bateman talks for a moment, then sits silent as director Jean-Jacques Mantello's cameras stroll along the ocean floor, follow creatures on their daily errands or linger on single shots for far too long. More than anything, Wonderland lacks proper pacing, waxing poetic (or simply waxing and waning) without any immediacy. Little ground is covered and even less context is offered, making Mantello's tour of the sea as shallow as it is watery.
Still, while Mantello's approach to the ocean may be less-than-thrilling, his photography is more than adequate, and often captures the all-too-familiar creatures he films with notable assuredness. His ocean is a wonderland in the sense that... well, the ocean is a wonderland. The scurrying schools of fish, swarming sharks, playful dolphins, beautiful coral and graceful beasts of the sea he focuses on may be ordinary, but they're no less fascinating. The problem is that Spalding's script, Mantello's cameras and, ultimately, the filmmakers' vision doesn't venture far enough into the depths of the ocean. Most of the what they showcase could be found at a local aquarium, making Ocean Wonderland more ideal for filling IMAX seats at an aquarium than for absorbing home viewing. It doesn't help that the film's Blu-ray release is anchored to a hefty price tag. Although its pricepoint falls in line with many other 3D releases currently on the market, it also seems quite substantial for an mediocre 40-minute IMAX production.
Somewhere between the first time I glanced at my watch and the first time my son asked if we could watch something else (my six-year-old son, who could spend three days in an aquarium without growing bored), I was ready for the credits to roll. (Both occurred within minutes of each other, and within ten minutes of hitting "play.") His yawns mingled with my growing disinterest, and he eventually started asking when we would finally see something new. (Mantello eventually obliged with a few coral dwellers who feed by way of filtering, but I don't think that wasn't the kind of "new" my son was really hoping for.) Long story short, Ocean Wonderland is a family-friendly IMAX documentary, but it isn't engrossing family-friendly entertainment. Might I humbly suggest getting your 3D kicks elsewhere. This one sinks far more often than it swims.
Setting aside the film itself, the Blu-ray edition of Ocean Wonderland 3D features a problematic 1080p/MVC-encoded video transfer that, for all intents and purposes, still delivers a decent 3D experience. There are some severe ghosting issues -- particularly when schools of tiny fish dart in front of the camera -- and quite a bit of noticeable banding and artifacting, but nothing that outright ruins the overall quality of the image or derails the 3D presentation. Yes, the seas lack depth, as flat expanses of color often do. However, the sandy ocean floors, fields of coral and prominent fish contribute to a pleasing, mildly three-dimensional water kingdom that offers a few convincing 3D elements. Shots of the sea turtle guiding the expedition are the best among them, as his deliberate movements lend themselves to the 3D experience far more than, say, an angel fish fleeing into the shadows. Mantello's photography has also been passably preserved. Colors are serviceable but rather dull at times, contrast is commendable but inconsistent, detail is good (just not great), and black levels are suitably inky (suitably, not perfectly). Moreover, textures aren't nearly as revealing as those showcased in other high definition undersea documentaries, errant digital anomalies appear throughout, and night scenes aren't as rewarding as those shot during the day. Ultimately, Ocean Wonderland's encode is a capable one. It isn't perfect or even impressive -- in 2D or 3D -- but it's a small step above middle-of-the-road.
Ocean Wonderland doesn't roll out a full-fledged DTS-HD Master Audio mix, but it does offer an excellent 2.0 Mbps DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 surround track that's more than suited to the task at hand. Wonderland is primarily a score-driven film and the synth-y elevator music entailed wraps comfortably around the listener. Light percussion arrives from all directions, airy melodies lift the soundfield and heavier, LFE-bolstered harmonies surge and relent wonderfully. Sound effects are given reign of the mix as well. Waves stir the water, the soft warble-wobble of the ocean is immersive, and other elements are backed by solid directionality. Through it all, narration sits neatly in the center channel, elbowing other effects out of the way without burying them in the sand. Granted, the track is more functional than overwhelming, but I doubt anyone will complain. It represents the film's original audio as well as could be expected.
As IMAX documentaries go, there are far better films than Ocean Wonderland. As 3D Blu-ray releases go... well, there are far better releases than Ocean Wonderland 3D. Its video transfer is decent enough, I suppose, and its DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 surround track is terrific. But the 3D experience isn't all that great and the film simply isn't worth the price of admission. All in all, I wouldn't be quick to buy this one unless you've already picked up every other 3D release on your Wish List.
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