A good nature documentary can make you see the world in a new light. Recent releases from the BBC, such as 'One Life', 'Planet Earth', and 'Africa' are both informative and entertaining, and help us understand animals on their terms. Specials like those and others don't talk down to the audience, and feature spectacular footage, often of behaviors we never expected from species we thought we knew everything about. On the big screen, IMAX has produced many quality shorter documentaries, including 'Beavers', 'Under The Sea', 'Born To Be Wild', and others that make use of the expansive IMAX image to showcase the world in a way few would ever see it otherwise. Universal has put together a series of 3D Blu-ray nature documentaries that look comparable to IMAX products on the surface. Sadly, what's inside the box does not compare.
'Fascination: Coral Reef 3D' is forty five minutes of underwater coral reef footage. There's no attempt at narrative, although there is narration. An Australian man, whose tone sounds about on par with a GPS voice, gives the audience general information about the reef and a few of the species that live there. It's as boring as it sounds. There's no sense of progression, no attempt to connect the viewer to the subject, and the footage is unremarkable.
Take, for example, the sequence on sea turtles. The narrator explains how sea turtles differ from other species, and then spends a lot of time discussing how they lay their eggs by digging a trench in the sand. We learn how the babies will crawl from the beach to the sea for up to seventy-two hours non-stop. The narrator even explains that the outside temperature as the eggs gestate determines the sex of the baby turtles. Through all of this, instead of seeing the appropriate footage of the turtle digging a trench, laying its eggs, and the babies hatching and crawling to the sea, we instead see a lone sea turtle swimming aimlessly through a coral reef, sometimes pausing to eat, but not doing much of anything. How are people supposed to marvel at the turtle's quest through life when they can't see any of it?
This series of videos is closer in spirit to those HD screensaver discs that popped up when the HD formats were new, pretty pictures you could use to show off your home theater, rather than a real nature documentary. In fact, it might have been preferable to leave out the narration, because I can't imagine that anyone would watch one of those and think that the natural world is actually interesting, worth investigating, or learning about.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc StatsUniversal offers 'Fascination: Coral Reef 3D' in a standard Blu-ray case with a slipcover that duplicates the cover artwork.
Universal presents 'Fascination: Coral Reef 3D' in a 1.78:1, 1080p, AVC/MVC encoded transfer. For a disc that is effectively a 3D demo, the image here is disappointing. Artifacts, banding, macroblocking, and other issues continually crop up. If it weren't 3D, I'd almost say this was stock footage. The 3D has reasonable depth among certain long shots of the reef, but for the most part is disappointing. Ghosting can be seen in many scenes, especially ones with lots of small fish. Colors look muted, although contrast is decent. The 2D transfer is brighter, but feels too bright, making the image look washed out.
'Fascination: Coral Reef 3D' comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is almost wholly wasted. Most of the soundfield is composed of very generic-sounding music. Narration is clear, if buried a little low in the mix at times. There are a few ambient effects, sounds of water and such, that offer a slight amount of immersion, but isn't terribly impressive. Dynamic range isn't even pushed; everything is so set in the mid-range. There's nothing technically wrong with the track, but there's nothing impressive about it, either.
The disc comes with a wealth of language tracks, but no special features.
'Fascination: Coral Reef 3D' is barely better than a home theater demo, with bland narration tacked on to imagery that is for all intents and purposes stock footage. However, for a disc designed to show off your home theater, the image is unreasonably poor, and the sound is disappointingly bland. There is absolutely no reason to spend your money on this poor excuse for a release.