|Living Sea, The (IMAX)|
|Written by Paul Lingas|
|Tuesday, 29 June 2004|
While I have seen many films in IMAX and OMNIMAX, this is the first DVD transfer of any of the large format films that I have had the pleasure to view. Due to the large format of the IMAX film, something I’ll get into in greater depth, the transfer to DVD is a tenuous prospect at best, as the sheer size of the film guarantees high resolution and clarity, but also a bigger area to contaminate with dust, as well as a bar for visual impact that is already incredibly high, due to the fact that these films are designed to be projected onto eight-story-high screens.
The IMAX format is essentially 70mm film stock that is turned on its side, thus gaining the largest amount of area possible for light to strike after passing through the lens of the camera. What this does is allow more of the emulsion on the film to be struck. The more grains of emulsion that make up the image, the greater the image clarity and depth of field. Most motion picture cameras feed the film from top to bottom through the gate and past the lens. The IMAX camera feeds from side to side, enabling a greater area of the film to be exposed. When you begin the filming process with this amount of clarity (and cost, $1000 for a minute of film) then you already have a head start on image clarity. When transferred to the digital medium of DVD, the clarity is not diminished in any way and this is what “The Living Sea” provides, remarkable clarity for a DVD. In fact, the image quality rivals that of super-bit DVDs, which limit the encoding area on the DVD to the sound and picture only, so no space is used for menus or special features, which take away from disc space that could be used for audio and image quality. In addition, this is a pristine transfer, with nary a speck nor blemish. What is also remarkable about the image is the aspect ratio of 16x9, the same as the original projection. It seems to replicate the size and scope of the original, as while it has letterboxing on the top and bottom of the screen, the bars are small and the overall amount of screen space that is filled seems larger, with a quality that far surpasses regular television and could be said to nearly approximate high definition.
As a documentary, “The Living Sea” succeeds on many fronts and is lacking in others. As with many IMAX films, the point is less about sharing information than it is about showing spectacular images. Due to its size, the IMAX camera is almost always on a fixed base and often uses a wide angle lens. This gives a great image but tends to make things somewhat formal. This is never a problem on an eight-story-high screen, but on the television, no matter how big it is, this formality becomes a bit more noticeable. Nevertheless, the film is intriguing both in terms of its subject and what it chooses to show. Not only are we presented with some phenomenal underwater photography, but there are also breathtaking aerial and mounted-boat shots of the islands of Palau, a Coast Guard rescue boat pounding through 15-foot seas off the Oregon coast, surfers riding 12 to 18-foot waves off Hawaii and other spectacular images. What is clear from who and what the filmmakers chose to capture is the idea that we all make up part of the sea, and this is why it is alive. Not only are marine animals and plants living within the sea, but we as humans also work and play in and around it. The sequences in Palau hammer this point home, as we follow a father and his two children around some of the islands and we are made to understand the clear relationship these island people have with the water. The father mentions that because over 70% of the Earth is covered with water, we are all in a sense islanders.
Meryl Streep provides the main narration but there are many who lend their voices to the film, whether discussing research, surfing, navigation, or their ancestry. The score is nice, featuring many songs by Sting and utilizing alternate arrangements of his work to maintain a musical cohesion throughout. The “making of” documentary is very interesting and provides as much actual information, if not more, than the film itself. Shot in high definition and featuring interviews with the director, producers, editors, composer and cameramen, it is a fine companion to this visually stunning work. A nice little feature is the menus, which provide the ability to chapter skip based on either the film itself or the “making of” portion that discusses that same chapter. Of course, the scene selections/chapter stops are moving, always a bonus on any DVD. A short background featurette is included about MacGillivray Freeman films, along with trailers for “The Living Sea” and three of their other titles.
Overall, this is a DVD of exceptional craft and quality. Anyone who enjoys fine imagery and the IMAX format will enjoy this interesting and beautiful look at the oceans that surround us. And for those who have never gone to see an IMAX film, this will definitely encourage them to seek out the large format.