Judge Eric Profancik is a funky spelunker.
Descend into worlds with no light, no air, and no room for error.
One of the first things to appear in the opening credits of Journey Into Amazing Caves is that the Cincinnati Museum Center produced the film in association with others. As I live in Cincinnati, it reminded me of how infrequently I go to the Center to watch any IMAX movies. What a shame. I should go to more of these movies because they are beautiful and amazing. This was true while watching Caves but even more so while viewing the accompanying bonus trailers.
Narrated by Liam Neeson, Journey Into Amazing Caves is an IMAX film that, as the name implies, takes you on a journey into some intriguing caves around the planet. The 40-minute film starts off in a never-before-explored cave in the Grand Canyon, moves to Greenland to venture deep into a 500-foot deep ice cave, and finally takes us to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to explore cave diving (a spelunking, SCUBA combination that is extremely dangerous). In a word, it's remarkable. I don't spelunk, but I've always loved caves so I found this material wonderful to watch.
Being an IMAX film, there's not much to say. We can all conjure up the general parameters of what to expect based on the IMAX nomenclature, and that is the case here. It is a simple examination of caves that is both educational and attractive. I did enjoy this film, wished I had seen it in IMAX, but I don't think it's the best nature documentary on this topic I've seen. Quite honestly, the Planet Earth episode that centered on caves was a bit better.
What are my quibbles with Caves? I'm glad you asked. Caves focuses on two women, Dr. Hazel Barton and Nancy Holler Aulenbach, as they go to these three caves. While the film makes it clear they are experienced cavers, it seems each cave put the women out of their element. First, at the Grand Canyon, they had to rappel 500 feet to get to the unexplored cave, and neither had ever done such a big descent. Next, in Greenland, neither had any ice caving experience so they couldn't explore the deepest depths of the site. And, lastly, in Mexico, neither had done any cave diving; so Hazel took a two-week class and then did the exploring. It just seems odd to have two women as your focal point who were just slightly out-of-sync with where they were. Still, the film shows them doing a commendable job. My other quibble is that for the first 10 minutes of Caves there's no real caving. That's 25% of the movie. (Honestly, though, it's not a bad 10 minutes. It's just not about caving.)
The video is a 1.78:1 1080p print that is a little disappointing. I have high expectations for any nature program on disc, and this one misses the mark. With occasional shimmering, some dirt, and an odd black/white streak a few times, the picture obviously isn't as perfect as it should be. Luckily the majority of Caves is good with well-rendered colors, rich blacks, and solid details/contrast. But as I watched it, I never got my "wow" moment—that one moment that is so amazing, so beautiful, so perfect, that your jaw drops and you say "wow." The audio fares much better with its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Typical for IMAX films, there's a lot of talking and dialogue, but they have power moments that make the soundtrack come to life. Foremost is the white water rafting they do on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Those swells and crashing water are quite immersive. Beyond that is an excellent score that's part New Agey and part Moody Blues (literally). And when it's not all-powerful, the soundtrack is crisp, clean, and subtle with wonderful use of all speakers to create a wonderful ambience making you feel like you are there. Shamefully, there are no subtitles available.
The disc features one big bonus item and a few smaller ones. The biggie is the best, a "Making Of" documentary that runs longer than the movie (40 versus 39 minutes). I truly enjoyed this feature as it's thorough, informative, shows "deleted scenes," quality behind-the-scenes footage, and it gives credit where credit is due. It's one of the best making of features I have seen on any disc. Next up is a ten-question trivia quiz about Caves. It's very easy, doesn't offer you any "reward," and there are literally only ten questions. After that is a featurette (7:37) detailing the history of MacGillivray Freeman Films (the studio behind these nature IMAX documentaries). This one is much better than I anticipated showing the company's origins and becoming the premier IMAX documentary studio. And rounding things out is a text-based about MacGillivray Freeman and a ton of trailers for other IMAX films: Journey into Amazing Caves, The Magic of Flight, The Living Sea, Mystery of the Nile, Greece: Secrets of the Past, Hurricane on the Bayou, Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, The Alps, Dolphins, Amazon, Super Speedway, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag, and Volcanoes of the Deep Sea. As alluded to earlier, I surprised myself in watching all these trailers. Filled with "wow" moments, the trailers coupled with the history feature fanned my desire to see more of MacGillivray Freeman films.
It may only run 40 minutes, have its story quirks, and a few technical flaws, but Journey Into Amazing Caves is a fun and fascinating film on a quality Blu-ray release. If you love your nature, you'll be happy to add this to your collection.
Journey Into Amazing Caves is hereby found not guilty of spelunking
without a license.
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