The law of the jungle ("eat or be eaten," "survival of the strongest") is the theme of the latest in the nature documentary series titled 'Fascination Coral Reef.' However, depictions of this law enacted by the inhabitants of the ocean's coral reefs are somewhat in short supply. We see very little of the marine animals performing the gruesome rituals of survival, of a smaller fish being devoured by its bigger neighbor or of some other fish acting the territorial bully. In fact, the 53-min doc showing wondrous, stunning visuals of everyday underwater life is rather tranquil, relaxing and peaceful, something that could soothe viewers to sleep. This is one neighborhood where you can leave your front door unlocked.
Of course, this isn't meant to dismiss or underestimate the sort of danger the less-defensible marine creatures must face on a daily basis. Certainly, the short doc shows a few white tip reef sharks loitering nearby, keeping a hungrily watchful and attentive eye, while the narrator reminds viewers of other fatal hazards smaller fish must always be wary of. Eagle rays blow puffs of air into the sand to unearth buried crustaceans, and coral trout lounges around other schools waiting for that one fish to break formation. Some evolved odd or bizarre tactics in order to collect their meals, like triggerfish using their powerful jaws to break apart the coral to find prey and the camouflaged tassled scorpionfish ambush stragglers.
The doc spends quite a bit of time on the habits and routine behavior of moray eels, which at times feels somewhat biased against the other predators. Not sure if it's the same one or different, but we're nevertheless made to watch it swim, be curious of other fish that come too close and simply stare at it huffing and puffing as the camera invades its personal space. The narrator even reserves a couple minutes discussing much they love finding a hole in the reef and make themselves cozy. The highlight of their lives is devouring the head of a dead fish, which the eel drag's into its hole. If you didn't already know, the territorial snake-like critters are aggressively mean little buggers unafraid to use their sharp teeth.
With this many carnivorous predators always on the hunt and always ready to feed, it's a wonder why the documentary never has any footage of some poor helpless creature suddenly and violently gobbled up. Perhaps it's intentional on the part of the filmmakers, preferring to show the tranquil beauty of coral reefs while also appreciating its hidden dangers. The only means of protection and survival for the more defenseless fish is by staying close to the crowd; the whole safety in numbers strategy. Some even find refuge and security by hiding inside the empty bowels of a sunken ship, which has wondrously grown a variety of underwater plant life and become a faux coral reef of sorts.
Sadly, much of the fascinating beauty seen in 'Fascination Coral Reef' is weakened by footage that's more peaceful and relaxing than it is exciting and engaging. Hampering the proceedings further is a terribly monotonous narrator more intent on educating viewers than stirring us into wanting to learn about marine life. In the end, the short doc is not a complete loss, offering plenty of stunning underwater scenery for us to gaze upon, but it can also feel pretty dry and humdrum at times.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Fascination Coral Reefs: Hunters and the Hunted' to 3D Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc inside a regular blue keepcase with glossy slipcover. The disc contains both a 3D and 2D version of the short doc, which implies it can play on any Blu-ray player. Viewers are taken directly to a 3D menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The short nature documentary swims to Blu-ray shores with much to offer in 3D goodness, but there are a couple small moments where the post-conversion (though not certain this is the case) feels exaggerated and a tad distracting. The 1080p/MVC MPEG-4 encode displays excellent depth and separation, as the far reaches of the blue ocean genuinely feel as if to be of great expanse. Random debris floating in the water appears to drift through the air and across the screen, and foreground objects move independently of the background. The scenes with the morays are best because there is a believable roundness and distance from the tip of their nose to their eyes, and they seem to penetrate beyond the screen and hover in the middle of the living room. A couple instances did strain the eyes a bit, which would suggest that producers pushed parallax to the limit of the source and distracted from the movie.
As for the rest of the 1.78:1 image, the picture is excellently detailed and sharply defined. Fine lines and textures in the coral surfaces, the fish and the vast assortment of vegetation are distinct and resolute. You can make out the tiniest rust stain on the sunken ship, and individual sand pebbles from the ocean floor fly everywhere. Contrast is spot-on and comfortably bright, allowing for excellent visibility in the distance in the spite of the thick, murky waters. Black levels are inky rich and true, making many dark shadows penetrate deep into the screen and adding to the picture's dimensionality. The color palette is vibrant and animated, making several of the fish pop and glow with luxurious primaries and warm pastel hues. Overall, the high-def transfer makes for an amazing 3D video.
'Fascination Coral Reef' also arrives with a great DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack although much of the design is contained within the front soundstage. Seeing as how the entire film takes place underwater, this doesn't come as much of a surprise. Nevertheless, imaging is widespread and broad with outstanding channel separation and precise vocals in the center. The new-age, soothing musical score bleeds nicely into the rears, expanding the soundfield to good, immersive effect. The mid-range is never pushed very far, but from what is heard, dynamics and acoustics are detailed with shockingly good extension into the low-end. Bass is robust and palpable, especially in the music, and even the voice of the narrator comes with impressive weight, making this a far better lossless mix than initially expected.
Aside from the option to watch the short doc with a music-only track, there are no special features in the package.
The latest in the short nature documentary series 'Fascination Coral Reef' explores the relationship of carnivorous hunters and the hunted. Interesting as that may sound, the overall doc is sadly not that fascinating, largely hampered by a monotonous narrator and footage that's more relaxing than engaging. The Blu-ray arrives with excellent 3D picture and a strong audio presentation, but the lack of supplements weakens the overall package, making it a decent purchase when the price is right and for anyone hungering for more 3D content.