These older IMAX films were made for no other reason than to showcase the enormity of the screen that presented them. Some of the ones made in the late 90s, like 'Search for the Great Sharks' lacked any sort of interesting or scientific information. That movie was 45 minutes of, "Hey, look how big this shark looks on this huge screen." 'Greece: Secrets of the Past' is a bit better in that it's newer and doesn't focus so much on the spectacle of the big screen as the story about Greece itself.
Made relatively recently, in 2006, Greek archaeologist Dr. Christian Doumas takes us on a visual tour of ancient Greece as we relive some of the country's most famous and notorious events. Narration is provided by Nia Vardalos of 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' fame.
The movie, in its brisk 45 minute runtime, quickly covers two main aspects of Greece's past. First up is an interesting story with a lot of speculation thrown in. Doumas discusses the once thriving city of Santorini and how it was literally blown out of the water by a volcanic eruption. We see the crescent shaped island with the middle of it missing. Could this be the lost city of Atlantis? There's no way to tell for sure, but one thing we do know is that the volcanic eruption that destroyed this place caused it to disappear off the face of the earth. Aerial views of the island look great on a small screen, so I can only imagine how magnificent they looked on a three-story IMAX screen. That's one of the biggest problems with these Blu-ray IMAX releases. The grandeur just isn't there. It's missing that flair that only a big screen can provide. These movies were all shot specifically with a larger-than-life screen in mind, so sizing them down to a TV screen – no matter how big – just doesn't do them justice.
After speculation on what happened to Santorini and its residence subsides Doumas then takes on a more concrete piece of Grecian culture, the Parthenon. Here we see the height of 2006 CG animation. Aerial shots seamlessly blend into artist renderings of what the Parthenon would have looked like when it was brand new. We swoop down and around it gazing at the columns, art work, and marvelous architecture. Then we venture inside the magnificent structure to see the statue of Athena that was once inside it. Huge, towering over anyone who came into the temple, the CG Athena statue looks a lot better than I thought it would. They even have a few real people walk by the animation so we can accurately understand the enormous scale of it.
In the end though 'Greece: Secrets of the Past' like most of these IMAX films takes a broad subject and doesn't have time to really dig into it. It's a quick way to pass the time, and there are some amazing images that must have looked spectacular on an IMAX screen, but viewing it on a small screen just doesn't have the same effect. In that case you hope that the history lesson they're about to teach you will be worth your time, but it turns out that the most of the information given is fairly cursory, and is simply there in order to accompany the awesome visuals.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This IMAX release comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The movie is pressed onto a 25GB Blu-ray Disc. The movie is coded for Region A use.
Many of the older IMAX films really suffered in video quality. Mostly because the Blu-ray transfers seemed like they were thrown together from an inferior print of the film instead of being completely digitally restored. However, 'Greece: Secrets of the Past' looks much better than, say, 'Search for the Great Sharks.'
Filmed in 2006, the quality of the video vastly outdoes the IMAX films that were filmed in the mid- to early 90s. Here we get a rich, detailed look at Greece. Shot on 70mm film the shots here really take in quite a lot of space. Vistas of Greece look magnificent. The grays and browns of the country's cities and towns shine. The blue sky always has a nice, light to dark blue gradient going on without a hint of aliasing. Detail is superb as tiny rocks and pebbles can be seen in long-range photography. The individual billows of volcanic ash spewing from the top of an active eruption are perfectly clear and defined.
The CG is a little rough around the edges, but ultimately it does a good job recreating a building as famous as the Parthenon. Credit to the CG artists that worked on this film though, because their animation is nicely reserved. They don't go over the top trying to wow us at every turn, they simply make a detailed reconstruction of the building based on evidence they have of what it looked like.
I didn't notice any compression issues that need to be reported. Some shots seem a little soft, but it's nothing to worry about. This is one of the best looking IMAX Blu-ray releases I've seen.
There's not much in the way of sonic wonders with this 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. It simply does what it was called on to do. That seems two-fold. First, the audio mix needed to present the narration in a concise and clean manner, which it does. The voice-overs are never lost or muffled. They always come across as intelligible and clear. Second, the mix needed to perform well with low-end rumblings whenever prompted. The volcanic eruption features a heavy dose of well-rounded growling bass. Other than the volcanic eruption and a few other directional sound effects that happen during the beginning of the film, there is little substance to this mix.
If you're a fan of these IMAX films then you'll want to give 'Greece: Secrets of the Past' a try. It's limitations are like any other short IMAX film though. There's just way too much history that could be discussed here, but they're forced to compact it into a short 45 minutes relying on the photography to tell most of the story. While it is beautiful, it's hard to get too excited about it since it's obvious that these movies are made specifically for gigantic IMAX screens. It's worth a look if you're the least bit interested though.