While many look up to the stars as the final unknown, beckoning further exploration, the vast ocean lingers as the last undiscovered region down here on Earth. With an estimated 50 million species yet to be discovered and many of them expected to be marine life, the sea remains an unchartered frontier capable of satisfying our desire "to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before." And while the saying is normally reserved for 'Star Trek,' it still holds true for our underwater universe, an alien world teeming with mind-boggling creatures that capture the imagination. And for those parts of the deep we have already surveyed, the organisms living there continue to fascinate and never cease to astound.
Cinematographer and director Howard Hall ('Into the Deep,' 'Deep Sea') takes viewers through one such journey in 'Under the Sea,' a short documentary originally filmed for IMAX theaters. Exploring the coastal areas surrounding Southern Australia, New Guinea, and the Indo-Pacific, much of what we see on screen is only a small fraction of the life which resides in the ocean depths. Many of the creatures shown in the film may look familiar to fans of nature programs, but Hall and his production team have done an excellent job of making it all seem new and exciting. At once educational, with Jim Carrey's voice explaining the mating habits of cuttlefish, the documentary is equally entertaining, with amazing displays of the daily rituals of other fish occupying the barrier reefs.
These ridges of living coral are packed with a rich diversity of sea critters, and the film focuses on their everyday existence in the midst of a very delicate habitat. This submerged civilization is known for being highly sensitive to the slightest climate change. And 'Under the Sea,' as with many newer wildlife features, mentions this very fact, and that much of this mesmerizing way of life is in danger of suddenly disappearing. Although concerns of global warming's negative effects upon these coastal regions is a clear message, Carrey's narration never pushes the matter to the point of annoyance. Instead, viewers are allowed to take pleasure in some of the most startling and beautiful photography of our aquatic friends. Only on occasion are we reminded of their fragile existence.
These self-sustaining ecosystems of calcium carbonates have always fascinated me, especially considering their relatively young age and how they are still able to house such an immense diversity of life. Formed only after the last great ice age, reef communities are home to a large variety of organisms, like eels that sway back and forth with the tide and look like tall grass. Some of the creatures live symbiotically, like a fish sharing a hole with a shrimp who keeps house, or a crab that wears an upside-down jellyfish for a hat. We are shown stunning images of a green turtle slowly nibbling away at its favorite food - a white-spotted jellyfish. We also witness the incredible camouflage techniques of leafy sea dragons, sting rays, stonefish, and the same cuttlefish mentioned earlier.
It's a thing of beauty to watch these amazing undersea animals in their everyday lives and marvel at their varied array of colors and adapted species. Clocking in at a comfortable 40 minutes, 'Under the Sea' doesn't delve too deeply into the science of these creatures as that might become a bit cumbersome, but it simply gives viewers a chance to stare in wonderment at the magnificence and splendor of these marine societies. Though the film also doesn't press the issue and dangers of global climate changes, the gorgeous and astonishing images still serve as a reminder of all that might be lost if things only worsen in time.
Taken from the original 65mm negative intended for IMAX 15/70 theaters, the 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer framed in 1.85:1 aspect ratio is breathtaking and spectacular. Showing a deeply saturated display of colors, the palette is richly rendered and vivid with strong variation in the secondary hues and brilliant primaries that never falter. Contrast and brightness levels are perfectly balanced, giving the image a gorgeous three-dimensional depth. Nearly every aspect of the film provides a wealth of visual delights and maintains a wonderful window-like effect of the underwater universe. Added to that, the highly-detailed picture also shows crystal-clear clarity and excellent definition in all the sea critters.
From the little pebbles laying on the ocean floor and the nominal pockmarks on coral to the smallest characteristics of the marine animals and plant life, the beautiful photography of our natural planet is astounding and well-preserved on this Blu-ray. Aside from some very negligible and easily ignored banding, 'Under the Sea' makes for a reference quality video presentation sure to astonish viewers.
Warner Home Video also includes a very attractive and satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, easily exceeding initial expectations for an underwater documentary. While Jim Carrey's narration is clear and consistent in the center of the screen, the other two channels deliver a wonderfully inviting and warm soundstage. Bass is responsive and used effectively, giving the track a subtle, tangible presence. The musical score by Micky Erbe and Maribeth Solomon is perfectly balanced in the front and bleeds into the back surrounds to create a great sense of envelopment and keeping viewers engaged. Dynamics and fidelity are excellent and expansive, showing distinct definition in each instrument. Although the lossless mix comes with only a few sporadic discrete effects, rear activity is, nonetheless, enjoyable and persuasive, with convincing directionality. Overall, 'Under the Sea' debuts with a strong audio presentation.
Only one lone exclusive is shared between the DVD and Blu-ray releases of 'Under the Sea,' which is a grave disappointment for an entertaining nature documentary. Titled "Filming IMAX: Under the Sea" (HD, 7 min), the short featurette is ultimately nothing more than a promo piece for the film. However, there are a few informative tidbits about the production and some of the difficulties of working with bulky cameras. Fans will surely enjoy it.
With beautiful and stunning photography of the varied marine life residing within coral reefs, 'IMAX: Under the Sea' is a fascinating glimpse of the everyday lives of ocean creatures. Narrated by Jim Carrey, the film is as educational as it is entertaining, and the colorfully stunning images serve as grave reminders of what might be lost with sever climate changes. The Blu-ray debuts with a demo-worthy video and a terrific audio presentation to match. While supplements are a bit disappointing, fans of wildlife documentaries and IMAX films are sure to add this to their high-def collection.