DVD International // 1999 // 900 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // February 2nd, 2000
Fish, serenity music, and more fish!
This is not a film, but more of a screensaver for your television or computer monitor. It is, in a nutshell, a virtual aquarium. Well, several aquariums, along with several soundtracks. The disc's presentation is amazingly lifelike and well-crafted; and is perfect for anyone who has always wanted an aquarium but doesn't want the bother.
I'll be frank here. Well, I'll be myself, but honest. I couldn't keep a goldfish alive. Guppies would beg the petshop owner not to let me take them home. My few attempts at keeping fish years ago ended in quite a few fish funerals, and finally giving the tank and equipment away. If you're like me, but still would like to have an aquarium (preferably with someone else doing all the work) then this is the DVD for you. For once I can talk all about a disc without giving the plot away!
Aquaria comes on a DVD-18, or dual-layered, double sided disc. It comes with 3 choices of aquariums on side A, and 2 more on side B. Each is unique and extremely well done; from the classic aquarium to a real coral reef, and even a freshwater one. You have the choice of looking at these aquariums in anamorphic widescreen, letterboxed widescreen, or pan-and-scan. I suppose the latter is to take you to the part of the tank where all the action is (where the most fish are at). You also have the choice of looking at the entire tank or close-ups of the fish themselves. You can either set it to run through one aquarium once, which takes approximately 90 minutes, or set any particular shot or style to auto-repeat, or set all the aquarium full or close-up views on the side to run sequentially and repeat. I really appreciate the effort that went into this to make it configurable to your own desires for watching.
The disc is advertised as more than just a virtual aquarium however. It claims it's purpose is for serenity, tranquillity, and relaxation. To that end it also accompanies the various aquariums with a choice of 4 soundtracks; a "serenity" music track or separate "relaxation" music track, both done in Dolby Digital 5.1, or waves crashing on a beach, or the sound of the aquarium bubbles, both done in DD 2.0. First off I'll say the music soundtracks are amazingly well done. They are just electronic music, nothing really fancy, but the music swells and recedes, and the mix is amongst the best I've heard. The frequency range goes through the complete scale, and the subwoofer is always providing a rumble that on my movie level setting was rattling things on my walls. The music encompasses you from all directions. If I were into meditation or some other New Age sort of thing I could see myself meditating to it. The other two tracks are far less intrusive, and with much less width or depth to the soundstage, but then they are just meant to be ambient sound.
Even the extremely well-done soundtrack cannot compete with the visual excellence of this disc. I have never seen my monitor explode in color and clarity like with this disc. Blacks are deeply black, shadow detail is superb, and the colors! Every color under the rainbow is vivid and bright, without any hint of artifact or pixelation. Fine coral with thousands of strands show no shimmering between them. There was one exception to this, but I'll talk about that below. The fish are mostly ones I've never seen before, but then I'm not a person who knows much about fish. Many of them are supposed to be rare, and one tank on side B is called exotic, for the larger and more rare creatures.
For the would-be fish expert, each tank comes with it's own "fishography." Each creature seen in the tank has it's own information screen, giving scientific information and dietary needs, along with some numerical scale in difficulty of care which I have no clue how to understand. Apparently if I had a DVD-ROM drive in my computer I could understand it better, since it also comes with various web-links for more information. I wish that at least the text of these links could have been available from my DVD video player.
You can use this disc just for background around the house, as a screensaver on your computer, or for just zoning out or meditating. I found it quite interesting and peaceful. In fact, I think it's the best disc out of the last lot I received to review.
While I mentioned the exquisite video clarity, one tank didn't measure up as well as the others. The second one on the first side, entitled "Natural" was a bit murky, with a much softer image. Perhaps that is what a "natural" tank looks like, and it was intentional. It was still interesting, just not the extreme detailed view I enjoyed on the other 4 aquariums. Four out of five isn't bad at all, in my opinion. If I have to give another small video complaint, it was on the DVD International logo preceding the menu. It was full of pixelation and artifacts, which initially gave me a bad feeling of what I would see inside the presentation itself, but fortunately that was not the case.
I would have appreciated the fishographies to be a little better suited for the non-fish expert, such as explaining what the scale of care difficulty meant. Again, I would have liked the web links and such to be viewable from my DVD video player. To see that content, you need a DVD drive on your computer, and to install a 56MB program on your computer first. Even just a text view of the links would have enabled me to type them in manually and go see what they have to support the disc.
Well, for all my gushing praise of this disc, it is just fish. If fish aren't your thing, then you probably won't want this one. But I really liked it, from the video to the various soundtracks, and I could spend many hours with it playing. For $25 retail, and under $20 online, you'd probably get more use out of it for your money than most films. If you like watching the fish that is.
DVD International is commended for a fine disc, I was surprised by the care taken to make this, and the extremely high quality of the video and sound. I'd like to ask them to improve on their logo and include whatever they can on the disc to be viewable by a DVD video player. Other than those small complaints, I happily release this disc to the public, and have no fear of anything but peace and tranquillity coming to society as a result.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: DVD International
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Music Only)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Music Only)
Running Time: 900 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD-ROM content