Case Number 11079: Small Claims Court

IMAX: DEEP SEA

Warner Bros. // 2006 // 41 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Mike Pinsky (Retired) // March 27th, 2007

The Charge

"But dramatic shifts can cause entire ecosystems to crumble..." -- Kate Winslet, explaining the importance of balance, right before another cool predator/prey fight.

The Case

A word of warning before we embark on this voyage: although your local science museum may advertise the fact that Deep Sea is shown theatrically in 3-D (under the title, naturally, Deep Sea 3-D), the version we are talking about today on DVD is not available in that format. The closest you are going to get to 3-D if you plan on buying this movie on DVD is the lenticular picture on the slipcover.

Now that we have gotten that point out of the way, let's deal with what we do have.

Most IMAX nature documentaries are short (sitting in an IMAX theater too long seems to induce headaches in a lot of people, me included), intersperse the nature footage everyone is paying to see with dry sequences of well-meaning scientists doing their scientist thing, and throw in celebrity narrators and music to make the production feel more Hollywood. Deep Sea is different in that it is solid nature footage, every second of it utterly stunning. Otherwise, it sells itself in the familiar way. In this case, the celebrity narrators are Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, whose voice I cannot hear in this without remembering her funny turn in Ricky Gervais' Extras, where she explains how to pander for an Oscar. Are Johnny and Kate pandering here for conservationist cred? Danny Elfman is our celebrity composer this time around, along with second-billed Deborah Lurie (not as high profile -- nor prone to using gothy choral voices).

Deep Sea shows the wonders of the underwater world and the interrelationships among the species -- and of course how humanity affects the balance between predators and prey. Okay, so technically a coral reef isn't really "deep" underwater, but it sure is colorful. Kinetic, dodging minnows evade a hungry grouper. A cruel-looking sea star (can a creature like this really be considered cruel?) gnaws at a brain coral -- until it is attacked and eaten by a snail. A short-tempered shrimp gets in a dust-up with an octopus. It isn't all about chowing down on critters smaller and weaker than you. There is an awful lot of symbiotic cleaning: many fish show up simply to allow smaller animals to nibble away...well, whatever it is that makes a fish feel dirty.

Watching Deep Sea is a purely aesthetic experience, like the world's best aquarium, only with your buddies explaining what you can obviously see in front of you. Oh, and overdubbed Foley effects of animals snapping and crunching and whatnot. At least, I think they are overdubbed. Unless this is some great new underwater sound recording technique that sounds as clear as Foley. And grouper really belch.

The filming locales range from British Columbia to a shipwreck off the Carolina coast. Most of the sequences take place in fairly shallow water (in spite of the film's title). The central conceit is that predator/prey relationship that the narrators keep repeating over and over. While Depp and Winslet keep talking about "the balance," we are really spending all our time in this movie watching animals eat each other. Only in the last five minutes does the conservationist theme come into play, with a brief statement about human overfishing. Then we close on a marvelous sequence of coral spawning.

You can watch the film in either its original 4:3 format (comparable to its IMAX presentation ratio) or a 1.78:1 anamorphic print for those with high-end televisions. I still don't see why, given the lack of extras on this disc and the short length of the feature, Warner couldn't have squeezed a 3-D print of the movie on here. The theatrical trailer pushes the 3-D aspect hard, which might leave some viewers of this disc wondering what they are missing.

The trailers tacked on the disc (including Happy Feet, Saving Shiloh, and some direct-to-DVD cartoon) suggest that Warner Brothers thinks that the target market for Deep Sea is kids. This is puzzling, because with such a strong market right now for nature documentaries (in part thanks to releases like March of the Penguins), Warner could have pushed more discs in the same vein as what we have here.

Apart from the trailers (and a trailer for this film), there are no extra features. For viewers who came to this disc out of an interest in science, the lack of information on the animals depicted here, the lack of information on conservation (other than a card in the case about safe seafood -- the same one I also found in my Happy Feet screener last week), and the lack of any behind-the-scenes footage make the disc feel like a half-hearted effort from a studio marketing department that seems to not know what to do with a niche film. You can find some of that background information on the film's website, however.

Some of this stuff will blow your mind. Humboldt squid flash colors as they prowl and devour. The climactic coral spawning, which only happens once a year, is startling in its sheer fecundity. If you get nervous at the thought of science documentaries, rest assured that you won't actually learn much about oceanography or marine biology from Deep Sea, other than 1) animals like to eat each other, and 2) invertebrates are really, really freaky. The appeal of Deep Sea is its unapologetic focus on how gorgeous the underwater world can be. No stuffy scientists, not much pushy environmentalism, and only as much anthropomorphism as befits animals whose primary motives seem to be eating and getting clean. This is one of those nature documentaries for people who are afraid of PBS and National Geographic. Ultimately, I'm not sure if that is a good thing, but at least for forty minutes of my life, Deep Sea was very cool to watch.

Review content copyright © 2007 Mike Pinsky; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Korean)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English
* French
* Korean
* Spanish

Running Time: 41 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks
* Theatrical Trailer

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0424942/combined

* Official Site
http://www.imax.com/deepsea/