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Under the Sea(2009)
Imagine a world of incredible color and beauty. Of crabs wearing jellyfish for hats. Of fish disguised as frogs, stones and shag carpets. Of a kaleidoscope of underwater life. Now, go explore it! The makers of Deep Sea and Into the Deep take you into tropical waters alive with adventure: the Great Barrier Reef and other South Pacific realms.
For more about Under the Sea and the Under the Sea Blu-ray release, see Under the Sea Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on March 15, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Narrator: Jim Carrey
Director: Howard Hall
» See full cast & crew
Under the Sea Blu-ray Review
A formulaic IMAX documentary earns a rousing AV presentation...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, March 15, 2010
As gorgeous as they often are, as readily as they sweep audiences away to distant lands and undersea kingdoms, IMAX documentaries aren't very filling. Blame it on their limited runtimes or the all-ages nature of their productions, but it's rare that one offers much more than a snapshot of its subject matter. Under the Sea is no different. Arriving with all the usual underwater suspects in tow -- squid, mollusks, and jellyfish, oh my -- it sometimes amounts to a glorified screen saver; a soothing yet shallow introduction to the Indo-Pacific that's heavy on visual splendor, but light on actual information. Its lone saving grace is actor Jim Carrey's narration. Pithy and playful, he seems genuinely delighted by everything unfolding on screen and, more importantly, doesn't deliver a rubber-jaw reading. More Joel Barish than Ace Ventura, he manages to bring the waters of New Guinea and Southern Australia to life, even if what he has to say will strike genre regulars as exceedingly familiar.
Writer/director Howard Hall's fourth IMAX film (after Into the Deep in 1994, Island of the Sharks in 1999, and Deep Sea in 2006), Under the Sea follows the award-winning documentarian and his talented team to the shores of Papua New Guinea, beneath the seas of South Australia, along the Great Barrier Reef, and into the flourishing waters of Indonesia. At each stop, Hall captures colorful footage of spongy frog fish, rare sharks, stingrays, venomous sea snakes, dazzling octopi, burrowing shrimp, cuttlefish, and clever chameleons of all shapes and sizes. His cameras are privy to some truly remarkable sights -- a school of reef squid laying a cluster of eggs, swaying fields of garden eels, a massive turtle happily dining on a deadly jellyfish, predators prowling their favorite hunting grounds, endangered creatures that continue to endure the rugged underwater terrain, and a family of affectionate sea lions who take a moment to introduce themselves -- many of which are lent endearing personalities courtesy of the director's cheery script and Carrey's affable narration. Eels don't mindlessly feed, they dance in the current; a turtle doesn't merely survive, it relishes a tasty delicacy; a shrimp doesn't dig a tunnel, it acts as a skittering contractor for a generous client; sea lions don't simply swim together, they trot out their best tricks and showcase their skills for an adoring public.
But as human as each tentacled beastie and razor-toothed protagonist is made out to be, Under the Sea still occasionally drifts off course. Several fish appear and disappear without explanation while still others are given far more attention than they require; lengthy introductions are provided for common creatures while rare animals are identified and then quickly overlooked; and topics involving the interconnectivity of the various species and their individual ecosystems are largely ignored. Symbiosis is mentioned, but ultimately left unexplored. Camouflage is employed, but left unexplained. Mysteries are described, but left unsolved. Hall makes other missteps as well. Some of the filmmaker's more cartoonish sound effects undermine his photography, his script can be a tad redundant, and other oddities abound (an audible smooch and a wince-inducing cover of "Octopus's Garden" left me shaking my head just before the credits rolled). Granted, forty-minutes doesn't afford a filmmaker much time, but too many things didn't sit well with me. That being said, many will shrug it all off as harmless, G-rated fun; amusing touches that, if nothing else, will help prevent younger children from growing bored with the film's deliberate pacing.
But therein lies Under the Sea's most glaring flaw. It isn't quite cute-n-cuddly enough to engross the kiddies, intriguing enough to capture the imagination of older children, or fresh or informative enough to draw adults into its teeming waters. The tenor and humor of Carrey's narration makes it clear the film is aimed at the whole family, but the resulting slog through the seas tries to appeal to too many age groups without establishing a consistent tone or unique identity. Nestled awkwardly between educational and entertaining, it does what countless Discovery Channel specials, BBC Natural History Unit productions, and other undersea documentaries -- including the director's previous IMAX projects -- have already done a hundred times before. And while that might work well for a 3D film playing on an IMAX screen at an aquarium or science center, it falls a bit flat on home video. I learned very little about the creatures featured or their Indo-Pacific stomping grounds, my five-year old son began searching for something else to do after fifteen minutes and, beyond soaking up forty-minutes of beautiful photography, I didn't really gain anything from watching the film. Perhaps I just set my expectations too high, but IMAX documentaries like Under the Sea could use a serious makeover.
Under the Sea Blu-ray, Video Quality
Video reviews of IMAX titles tend to boil down to "beautiful photography, haphazard encode." However, the Blu-ray edition of Under the Sea is an entirely different beast. Bubbling to the surface with a magnificent 1080p/VC-1 transfer, Hall's forty-minute film is blessed with a stunning source and a proficient presentation. The brilliant blues of the sea, the dark shadows of the ocean floor, and the blazing hues of the tangled coral beds are a sight to behold. Contrast is strong and stable, and detail is incredibly revealing. Count the delicate scales on the tiniest fish, trace the spindly veins of an underwater garden, look closely as stones scatter across the back of a reclusive stingray, watch carefully as a sea lion's whiskers bend and bristle. The image is so crisp, Hall's startling footage so cleanly rendered, that it often borders on breathtaking. Better still, I didn't detect any significant artifacting, ringing, crush, or aliasing, and banding -- ever the bane of undersea documentary transfers -- only appears on a handful of brief occasions, will be overlooked by all but the most ardent videophiles, and vanishes long before it becomes a distraction. In fact, faint, intermittent flickering is the sole issue that holds the presentation back from perfection (and even that may be inherent to the source). As it stands, I can't imagine anyone will be remotely disappointed with the results.
Under the Sea Blu-ray, Audio Quality
But wait, there's more! Under the Sea boasts an immersive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track; one that does justice to Hall's lively soundscape, New Guinea and Indonesia's enveloping waves, and Micky Erbe and Maribeth Solomon's diverse music. As expected, Jim Carrey's crystal clear, perfectly prioritized narration pulls the soundfield forward, sometimes bringing the sonic proceedings to a two-dimensional halt. But every time he finishes a sentence, the waters of the Indo-Pacific rush to fill each speaker. LFE output is hearty and aggressive, the rear channels are swimming with activity (both organic and orchestral), pans are fluid, and directionality is as playful as Carrey's tone. While some aspects of Hall's sound design prove to be annoying, the studio's technical mix rarely falters, lending legitimate power and presence to a short documentary that, just last year, would have been slapped with a standard Dolby Digital track. Fans will be most pleased. Kudos, Warner.
Under the Sea Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The back cover of IMAX: Under the Sea touts a laundry list of special features, but the content itself is quite underwhelming. "Filming IMAX: Under the Sea" (HD, 7 minutes) is an extended preview at best, a gushing EPK at worst, and the disc's five "Expeditions" (HD, 12 minutes) are actually short webisodes that do little more than introduce the various locales where Howard Hall and his crew shot the documentary.
Please note: while Warner's press release, online coverart, and Amazon's product listing suggest the Blu-ray edition of IMAX: Under the Sea includes both a standard DVD and Digital Copy of the film, the sealed and shrink-wrapped screener the studio sent is a single-disc release that doesn't have either.
Under the Sea Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Under the Sea doesn't bring anything new to the IMAX fold, but its Blu-ray release certainly does. While similar documentaries have been crippled by mediocre AV presentations, Warner has granted Hall's fourth underwater adventure a stunning video transfer and a satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. I'm sure documentary fans would have appreciated some more substantial special features, but anyone who picks up Under the Sea will be too entranced by their screen and speakers to care about a lackluster supplemental package. If I could only feel the same enthusiasm for the film itself...
Under the Sea: Other Editions
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Under the Sea Blu-ray, News and Updates
• IMAX Under the Sea Announced on Blu-ray - February 17, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced IMAX: Under the Sea for release on a BD/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack on March 30. This documentary on marine life in the Pacific, narrated by Jim Carrey, was released in IMAX 3-D theaters in 2009. However, there is no mention in the ...
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