'To the Arctic' is a well-intentioned and good-natured nature documentary, but its central story about a mother polar bear and her twin cubs, which is meant to tug at the heartstrings, tends to float adrift and become lost amid an ocean of heavy-handed lessons on the effects of climate change. Generally speaking, the discussion is definitely worth having, especially for further understanding the damage done to wildlife and the added hardships inflicted on the survival of specific species. The best approach is also the simplest: spark the need for a discussion by showing animals in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, the film from Greg MacGillivray, who's produced other fantastic and better documentaries, does more telling than showing.
With stunning and wondrous photography of nature's majestic splendor, the desolate, rigid climate of the Arctic is captured with such immense beauty that it almost feels eternal. But, as we're quickly coming to realize, this beauty sadly does have an expiration date, one which appears to have been sped up by humanity's consumption of natural resources. Spectacular images of waterfalls racing off enormous cliffs of ice and hundreds of sheets of ice littering the Arctic Ocean are beautiful sight to behold, but they come at a serious price, and it's possibly permanent. A mother polar bear and her cubs jump from one ice bed to the next, and at one point, they're forced to run for their lives across those sheets when a very hungry male threatens to eat them for dinner.
Other such segments continue to emphasize the impact of climate change in the Arctic regions. Rapidly melting ice and longer summers make the yearly migrations of caribou more treacherous, prolonging the trip and forcing some pregnant females to give birth along the way. It's these images, and hearing about the animals' struggle for survival worsening in recent years, that leaves a more lasting impression, but their effectiveness is often interrupted by the voice-over narration, which often forgets its main attraction is seeing more of the polar bear mother scrounging to feed her cubs. A few minutes are dedicated to walruses and their limited food supply, yet they're shown mostly sunbathing. We even take a moment to look at sea anemones living in the ocean beneath thick layers of ice. It largely feels like the filmmakers are simply stretching the running time with other interesting photography.
Meryl Streep provides the narration, and she does fine for the most part. Regrettably, and with no offense to Ms. Streep, she only makes us miss the voice of Richard Attenborough all the more, particularly when three other voices join the fray and take over large portions of the show. In fact, 'To the Arctic' should take some helpful cues from any number of Attenborough's absolutely wonderful nature docs, talking about our dwindling and endangered natural environment without an overbearing sense of guilt. In the end, and despite some maladroit intentions, the short documentary offers several extraordinary and breathtaking scenes of the Arctic, which at the very least can serve as reminders of what we are losing if the change in climate continues its current course.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video and IMAX bring 'To the Arctic' to 3D Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. A Region Free, BD25 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-5 copy of the movie. Both are housed inside a blue, eco-elite keepcase with a glossy cardboard slipcover. After a short 3D promo advertising other Warner products, viewers are taking a generic, static menu screen with music.
Blu-ray travels 'To the Arctic' in 3D style with an admirable and often astounding 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode. The photography doesn't exactly lend itself perfectly to the sort of quality we've come to expect from IMAX releases, but the overall presentation is still a feast for the eyes with a great deal of dimensionality and clarity. Objects in the far distance penetrate into the screen, providing several worthwhile scenes of depth and the beautiful expanse of the Arctic. Underwater shots, especially when curious animals inspect the camera or polar bears frolic in the water, allow for some very amusing moments of spatiality and 3D pop. Only a couple segments display excellent separation between the foreground and background. Unfortunately, the majority of the presentation feels generally flat and two-dimensional.
Still, the 1.78:1 image offers extraordinary definition in the Arctic ice sheets, a few rock formations and the several wildlife surviving in the extreme climate. Individual hairs on the polar bears are distinct and precise, swaying back and forth with the harsh weather or when they are shown swimming underwater. We can clearly make out every scar on the blubbery bodies of walruses, and the tentacles of sea anemones beneath the thick ice move independently with outstanding clarity. Sadly, all is not perfect, as a bit of banding and posterization can be detected in some spots. More apparent is the mild aliasing seen in a few extreme wide shots and the aerial photography. The artifacts are only noticeable if one was to look for them, but they are there nonetheless.
Overall, the high-def transfer is in good standing order, with exceptional contrast and crisp, brilliant whites. Visibility into the far distance is often astonishing, making for some truly breathtaking scenery of nature's beauty. Black levels are equally amazing and penetrating with fantastic gradations in the grayscale and great detailing with the few dark shadows. The color palette can feel somewhat limited, but the few splashes of primaries remind viewers that these desolate areas still contain plenty of life and energy. Secondary hues are full-bodied and bold, making this 3D presentation an enjoyable watch despite its a minor drawbacks.
The short documentary also arrives to Blu-ray with a first-class DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. It's not the sort to test one's system, but it's engaging and welcoming nevertheless, with superb fidelity and warmth. With well-balanced channel separation and flawless panning across the screen, imaging feels expansive with convincing off-screen effects. The mid-range is precise and highly-detailed, providing the music excellent, distinct clarity in the instrumentation. The low-end is full-bodied and terrifically responsive, with a few moments that nicely dig deep to accentuate specific scenes. Dialogue is intelligible and crystal-clear at all times in the center, and the songs of Paul McCartney bleed lightly into the surrounds, enhancing the soundfield to satisfying effect and making this lossless mix a great listen on Blu-ray.
'To the Arctic' is a well-intentioned documentary about the effects of climate change in the Arctic. Lots of gorgeous photography and imagery leaves a lasting impression of the region and the harsh condition under which many animals survive, but sadly, the doc's central story about a mother polar bear and her twin cubs is often glossed over in favor of creating a doom and gloom feel. The 3D Blu-ray offers a good audio and video presentation, but it, too, has its drawbacks, particularly in the picture quality. Supplements are also much too light and forgettable. Overall, the package makes a decent one-time viewing, and the curious should seek out a rental before purchasing.