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Aliens of the Deep Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 November 2005

Aliens of the Deep (IMAX)
Walt Disney Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: G
starring: James Cameron
film release year: 2005
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: Two Stars
sound/picture rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Paul Lingas

The second of James Cameron’s IMAX films that have to do with underwater exploration, “Aliens of the Deep” was not only shot and exhibited in the IMAX format, but was the first to be done in 3-D. Though the DVD does not capture nor reflect the 3-D format in any way and really diminishes the overall effect of IMAX (unless you have an eight-story television), the clarity of the transfer is absolutely breathtaking. It almost creates the illusion that the television screen is actually a window onto the world captured in the film. While it is that, in a sense, the crispness and clarity is such that it feels as though we are live observers of the action.

In “Aliens of the Deep,” filmmaker Cameron and others team with NASA scientists to explore the deep dark places of the ocean, where no sunlight can reach and therefore where only specialized forms of life exist. Enclosed in traditional deep-sea submersibles and other bell-shaped watercraft with 320-degree views, the team members spend most of their time around the mid-oceanic ridges. These ridges are the places where new crust is constantly being formed and where, due to the extremes of heat, cold and the presence of toxic chemicals, the possibility of life is small. However, we find that life does exist in these places where previously we thought no organisms could survive.

These hardy and unusual life forms excite the NASA researchers, most of whom are studying planetary exploration. The idea is that if there is life in areas of the Earth where we previously thought there couldn’t be, it opens up the possibility of different forms of life on other planets, especially planets and moons where ice and water are prevalent, such as on the Jovian moon Europa. The film blends footage from the dives and snippets of life aboard the research vessel with computer-generated mockups of possible space programs to study Europa and other moons.

While the science and sheer mystery of the subject matter make this an interesting film, the lack of dynamic organisms might throw some viewers who are expecting to see a plethora of unusual marine life. It is important to remember that IMAX films, though usually well-made documentaries, are mostly effective in their use of the format as spectacle. Due to the precarious nature of deep water dives, research and filming, there is little dynamism to the film in terms of action, movement or structure. When we do see unusual forms of life, they are fantastic, but then we go back to shots of the explorers inside their submersibles. One of the things I always find fascinating about IMAX films is imagining how they were able to capture the footage, owing to the large and cumbersome nature of the IMAX camera. That is especially true here, as the danger inherent in deep sea exploration is great.

The only special feature on the DVD is the extended version of the film. While it does provide some additional interesting information, there are segments where it seems to drag. After all, though the film does well as a documentary, the main attraction of it is the visual element. Documentary information and plot points are given less attention, since when we’re in the theatre watching an IMAX film, we’re so overwhelmed with the visuals that we tend to ignore the lack of a true plot. Though we don’t have the large format here to the extent that we would in the theatre, the clarity of the picture is nothing short of phenomenal. Why is that? Let’s take a refresher course on the IMAX format.

The IMAX format is essentially 70mm film stock that is turned on its side, thus gaining the largest amount of area possible for the 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), you already have a head start on image clarity. When transferred to a digital medium, which is what DVDs are, the clarity is not diminished in any way and this is what “Aliens of the Deep” provides: remarkable clarity for a DVD. In fact, the image quality rivals that of Superbit 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 or blemish.

“Aliens of the Deep” was the first IMAX film to be shot and projected in a new 3-D technology, and while that is not replicated in any way on the DVD, there is no loss of image quality whatsoever from the original footage. At times, because the water is often so still and free from animal or plant organisms, the submersibles seem to be floating in space, which helps add to the feeling that it could be exploring other worlds.

IMAX films cannot transfer their scope and awe-inspiring visuals to the small screen in any way that gives the theatrical experience justice. However, IMAX films like “Aliens of the Deep” do still capture fascinating aspects of our world with a technical crispness that almost rivals reality. While I cannot highly recommend this film for its overall documentary purposes, I can encourage everyone to see it for the spectacular images it captures.

more details
sound format:
English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound
aspect ratio(s):
1.78:1 Enhanced for 16x9 televisions
special features: Extended Version of the Film; French and Spanish Subtitles
comments: email us here...
order today:

reference system
TV: 43" Sony KP-43HT20
DVD player: Panasonic DVD-XP50
receiver: Denon AVR-3802
main speakers: Venturi V820
center speaker: Polk CS 400i
rear speakers: Tannoy PBM 6.5

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