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Case Number 09947: Small Claims Court

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Ambient Water: The Ultimate Video Aquarium

Vat19 // 2005 // 190 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // September 4th, 2006

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All Rise...

It's all about fish, water, gurgling bubbles, and Appellate Judge Dave Ryan completely losing his mind.

The Charge

From the people who brought you Ambient Kittens and Ambient Fire…the ultimate underwater adventure!

The Case

Ambient Water, from Vat19's "Ambient" series, is…unique. It's not really entertainment per se; it's really just…fish. Lots of fish. The disc contains eleven segments of aquaria, diver footage, and more aquaria, which you can throw up on your TV to pretend you have a real live aquarium (but without the mess).

Well, that's what they want you to think. I think there's actually a lot more than meets the eye here. This is actually an eleven part journey through the world of piscine entertainment, one with no parallel in the DVD world. Come with me, on a journey under the sea…

• Episode One—"The Real World: Coral Reef"
This is the true story of seven strange fish, picked to live on a reef, work together, and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when fish stop being polite…and start getting real.

• Episode Two—"Coral Reefin' II: Electric Boogaloo"
The reef gang has to stage a fin wiggle-off fundraiser to save the coral reef community center. Featuring Shabba-blenny and DJ Jazzy Butterfly Fish.

• Episode Three—"Underwater Wars Episode One: The Fan Coral Menace"
A long time ago, in the shallows of a temperate ocean far, far away…

Turmoil has engulfed the Crustacean Republic. The taxation of swimming routes to outlying coral reefs is in dispute.

Hoping to resolve the matter with a blockade of deadly sea urchins, the greedy Clownfish Federation has stopped all swimming to the small reef of Nemo.

While the Congress of the Republic endlessly debates this alarming chain of events, the Supreme Oyster has secretly dispatched two Cleaner Wrasse Knights, the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy, to settle the conflict…

• Episode Four—"Through a Fishtank Darkly"
A fairy basslet named Karin, vacationing on a head of brain coral, begins to hallucinate, eventually becoming convinced that she's speaking directly to Jacques Cousteau. Directed by a bag of Swedish Fish.

• Episode Five—"Anemone Doesn't Live Here Anymore"
A single-mom sea anemone tries to make a new start on the coral reef. Her wacky co-workers, Hermit Crab, Clownfish, and Giant Clam, help her cope with the breakup of her marriage and the stress of raising a polyp by herself. Will she find love with the hunky lobster down the street?

• Episode Six—"Pond"
Awettis…Pond…water planet…Paul Muad'fish, granted messianic powers by the mysterious Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Chinese Algae Eater, must unite the native Freneons to avenge the death of his father at the hands of Baron Guppy. The kelp must flow!

• Episode Seven—"Red-tailed Shark 1138"
In a futuristic freshwater dystopia, a single red-tailed shark attempts to break free of the aquatic mind control imposed by the authorities and find love with another red-tailed shark.

• Episode Eight—"Lethal Dorsal Fin"
Orange Molly #1 is a cop nearing retirement. In a lushly-planted freshwater tank, he's assigned one last mission: take down the gang of clown loaches terrorizing the bottom. But can he cope with his new partner, Orange Molly #2, a suicidal nutjob? Comic relief is provided by Joe Freshwater Frog.

• Episode Nine—"Bright Lights, Small Neons"
You're a neon tetra. You swim around in a freshwater tank. You're just one of dozens of other neon tetras; all anonymous, all theoretically as bored with life as you are. You swim around the tank, taking care to avoid all contact with your fellow neons. You think about Bret Easton Ellis, and how he's a talentless hack, and how you're soooooo much more talented than him, because you went to Williams and he only went to Bennington. Then you wonder about Coma Baby.

• Episode Ten—"March of the Lobsters"
A heartwarming tale of the lives of lobsters, as they walk around on the seafloor and…well, that's about it. Not narrated by Morgan Freeman.

• Episode Eleven—"Rock & Roll Rocks"
It's the hottest band in the world: Lava Rocks. Watch them…sit there. And have waves crash over them. Then it rains on a pond. Then it gets all freaky-like. A rock opera in three acts. Words and music by Jim Steinman.

(Please note that your impressions may vary.)

The main selling point of this disc—at least according to the cover art—is that it was "shot in HD." That is probably true; there is no way to prove or disprove that claim. But even if it was shot in HD, that doesn't make it HD. No DVD player—even your best progressive scan players—can create HD-level resolution on your HDTV. There simply isn't enough pixel information in the signal. The imagery in Ambient Water does look great, but not HD great. The unavoidable artifacts of digital video—a slight blockiness to images, especially moving images, for example—can readily be seen. In fact, in a cruel irony for Vat19, the overall high quality of the picture makes the digital artifacts all the more obvious. Ambient Water is clearly meant (in part) to be a demo/reference disc—you put in on to show off your system. It does a good job of that, but not as good a job as a true HD-DVD or Bluray disc would. This image is great—but HD is spectacular.

The other purpose for the disc, I assume, would be to have something to put up on your TV when you're hosting a party. It fulfills that role quite well, too—the images are cool, but not so cool that everyone will ignore you and watch the TV for three hours; the audio is unobtrusive (as long as you select the "coral reef" option—the "freshwater aquarium" option is loud and obnoxious. I own two freshwater tanks; the two of them together aren't nearly as noisy as that audio track.)

There are no extras on the disc, unless you count the ads for the other Vat19 "Ambient" line products. And you should—they're actually quite clever. My favorite is the promo for "Ambient Party," which is a spoof of the…ahem…male enhancement product commercials you see on TV. A word on Vat19 itself: this is the first Vat19 disc we've reviewed, and I, for one, hope we review some more. Calling their catalog "eclectic" is an understatement. Not many DVD houses can boast of selling a virtual fishtank, "The Encyclopedia of Boating Tips," and "Puppy Tales"—not to mention a driver's ed disc and a DVD that summarizes major Supreme Court cases concerning the 14th Amendment.

So there you have it. Fish—the final frontier. Live long, prosper, and make sure you get enough Omega-3 in your diet.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: Vat19
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 190 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Genre:
• Interactive

Distinguishing Marks

• None

Accomplices

• None








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