Image Entertainment // 2008 // 40 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // February 6th, 2010
An epic underwater struggle for survival.
Co-directors Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas' Wild Ocean debuted in IMAX 3D in the spring of 2008. The nature documentary traces the volatile events of the annual sardine migration through the KwaZulu-Natal Wild Coast off of South Africa. As massive schools of the fish move through the ocean like living black clouds, they attract the attention of dive-bombing Cape Gannets, Cape Fur Seals, and Common and Bottlenose Dolphins, as well as Blacktip, Copper Head, and Dusky Sharks. Also on the scene are massive Humpback Whales, who feed off of the plankton that live in abundance off of the coast. Wild Ocean is a dazzling assembly of sumptuous underwater and aerial cinematography that captures the exquisite beauty of the Wild Coast in the kind of ultra-fine detail that only IMAX's horizontally exposed 65 mm film stock can deliver.
Perhaps the greatest unintended consequence of IMAX's stellar visual quality is that nature films shot in the format tend to avoid the sort of ginned-up drama that characterizes pieces shot for smaller screens (especially those shot for television). In Wild Ocean, you'll find no anthropomorphized animals with cutesy names, or precocious editing and ominous voice-over narration that makes us cross our fingers hoping that the adorable little seal pup escapes the mean old shark. Instead, Wild Ocean's awe-inspiring shots of the South African coast and stunning underwater cinematography are allowed to speak for themselves. The natural beauty of sweeping vistas and the primal but elegant behavior of aquatic animals are the stars of the show. Scripted melodrama need not apply. Highlights of the program include the slow and stately movements of grizzled, barnacled Humpback Whales, a shark feeding frenzy, and the surreal sight of flocks of Cape Gannets zipping downward through the water like missiles as they plunge-dive the schools of sardines, striking the water at incredibly high speeds. We also get a glimpse of local fishermen -- who rely on the sardine migration for survival -- casting their nets into the teeming water. If Wild Ocean has a flaw it's that, like most IMAX features, its 40-minute running time leaves you wanting more.
Wild Ocean was shot by veteran IMAX cinematographer Reed Smoot (Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage). His beautiful work is captured in high style by the 1080p/VC-1 transfer on this Blu-ray. While some studios, like National Geographic (Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric 3D Adventure), have opted to release their 3D nature programming on Blu-ray in 3D anaglyph, Image Entertainment opted to play it simple and straight-forward with this 2D release of Wild Ocean. It's just as well, really, since anaglyph transfers tend to mute the image's color and result in loads of annoying ghosting artifacts. Blu-ray has proven to be the ideal format for home video presentation of IMAX content, and Wild Ocean is a case in point. Detail is spectacular throughout the feature, rivaling the crisp imagery of high-definition digital video without sacrificing any of the warmth and character of celluloid. Colors are bold and accurate. The image is free of digital artifacts. If there's a problem with the visuals at all it's that, limited by the large and unwieldy IMAX cameras, the show is constructed of the sort of long, stately wide shots so common in IMAX that they've almost become visual cliché. But each and every frame of the movie is so packed with beauty, its familiar visual aesthetic is hardly a problem.
In addition to the short feature, the disc packs a quartet of featurettes -- Interview with the Directors (15:56), KwaZulu-Natal During the Run (6:31), Behind the Scenes (8:39), and Recording Wild Ocean (2:23) -- that provide additional background on the wildlife on display in the show as well as information on the production of the film. There's also a text- and picture-based supplement called Shooting Wild Ocean, and an interactive trivia game.
The disc is also BD-Live enabled.
With its abundance of gorgeous cinematography, Wild Ocean is definitely worth a look, but its short running time and limited batch of extras mean that all but hardcore fanatics of IMAX or nature documentaries should rent rather than buy.
Review content copyright © 2010 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 40 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interactive Trivia
* Official Site