DEEP SEA: IMAX - DVD review all-too-brief but fascinating look at some of our ocean's irreplaceable treasures.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

I dunno. The filmmakers meant for viewers to watch their 2006 IMAX documentary "Deep Sea" on a giant screen and in 3-D. Watching it on the small screen at home (and no matter how big your screen is at home, it's not IMAX) rather diminishes the fun.

Still, there's so much beauty on display here, it's hard to argue against the film, even when forty-one minutes with essentially no bonuses seems like pretty short measure.

Yes, the beauty. The film explores only a fraction of the myriad variety of underwater plants and animals that exist in the world's oceans, yet the ones we see on display are amazing in the extreme. Thanks to Howard Hall ("Island of the Sharks," "Into the Deep," "Nature") directing with a such a sure hand, narrators Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet keeping us pleasantly informed, and Danny Elfman's musical score playing behind them, the movie entertains and enlightens throughout.

Why Depp and Winslet? I assume that because Depp is a pirate and Winslet is a survivor of the Titanic, they know a lot about the sea. In any case, they make a charming pair of narrators, their give-and-take, question-and-answer patter a pleasing background to the film's visual attractions.

Hall primarily made the movie in parts of the Pacific--from California to Hawaii and from Mexico to British Columbia--and it might lead some viewers, especially younger ones, to believe that all of the Earth's waters are as dazzlingly gorgeous and resplendent as the shots in the film. But, alas, not all of our oceans look like scenes from "The Little Mermaid" or "Finding Nemo" as we see here. Most of the oceans look pretty stark and forbidding. Still, what we've got in "Deep Sea" shows us how wonderful parts of it can be and how much we need to help maintain all of it.

And what a marvelous place it is, too. Words I wrote down as I watched the movie: "Spectacular." "Awesome." "Sublime." "Ravishing." These reactions started with my first glimpse of jellyfish, hordes of them looking like a gigantic fleet of alien spacecraft gracefully swimming through the water. My wonder continued as I stared in fascination at a shrimp with claws as fast and powerful as a 22-calibre bullet and a warning display colorful and elaborate enough to frighten away an octopus.

Speaking of which, the Great Pacific Octopus is a captivating creature, changing its color and skin texture to match its surrounding. Likewise, there are the curious sea urchins that feed on the kelp forests and the wolf eels that feed on the urchins to keep a balance in all things, this being but one of the movie's examples that illustrates the theme that nature takes care of itself. If urchins didn't eat the kelp, the urchins would die; if the eels didn't eat the urchins, the urchins would soon eat all the oceans' kelp; and without the kelp, most of the oceans' sea life would die. So, everything feeds everything else, and nature maintains its equilibrium.

Likewise, the film points out how sharks, magnificent beasts that they are, also contribute their part to this balance, eating the fish that would otherwise overrun the seas. Then, when darkness falls, we see a few of the night fish, mantas and squid, which can look absolutely terrifying. All of this, added to the way fish help clean each other, aids our understanding of how nature works so efficiently. Unless somebody or something comes along to upset things, and you can guess who that would be.

The movie ends with an environmental warning. Depp tells us, "In the last fifty years, 90% of all the big fish have been taken from the ocean. We are taking more than the ocean can give.... Overfishing is decimating one species after another. Entire ecosystems have begun to unravel."

Yet the Earth and its seas abide and continue to regenerate and provide new life. But for how long? As the film concludes, "All species are interrelated, and our destiny is linked to theirs." So it is. In the meantime, enjoy what there is in "Deep Sea: IMAX," an all-too-brief but fascinating look at some of our ocean's irreplaceable treasures.

The disc contains two versions of the film, which theaters originally projected on IMAX screens in 65 mm at a ratio of 1.44:1. Here, you get the choice of 1.33:1 or 1.78:1 sizes. Neither of them, however, preserves all of the original 1.44:1 dimensions. In comparing the two formats, I noticed that the 1.78:1 ratio displayed slightly more information at the sides of the screen but considerably less information at the top (and sometimes at the bottom). So, of necessity the filmmakers had to modify both formats from the original. I chose to watch in 1.78:1 because that's my own screen size.

OK, you know that aquarium-fish screensaver that practically every computer store uses to demo its LCD flat-screen monitors, the screensaver that makes the picture practically glow with fluorescence and has probably sold more sets than any picture in history? That's what this whole movie looks like, only it's real. The colors are dazzling, brilliant and lifelike without ever being overbearing, oversaturated, or unrealistic. Warner's use of a very high bit rate secures vibrant hues and excellent clarity everywhere in the movie, even though the cameramen were filming underwater most of the time. It's an amazing feat, one that must have looked even more incredible in IMAX and 3-D. I'd just like to see it in high definition.

Which brings up a final point on the video. If WB could put two versions of the movie on the same side of one disc, I wonder if they gave any consideration to making one of those versions in 3-D, with a couple of pairs of 3-D glasses enclosed in the case? I'm sure they did. Maybe they figured that standard definition wouldn't show off the three-dimensional effects too well; I don't know. Ah, but in high definition. That would be another story, and I hope the powers that be at Warner Bros. are giving some thought to the idea: widescreen and 3-D. Might be fun.

There is not a lot to the sound; it's mostly two people talking and some music playing in the background. Occasionally, there are a few gurgles and waves in the rear speakers. Nevertheless, the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound manages to make the best of the situation, keeping the voices smooth, focused, and natural and the music spread out nicely across the front channels, with a warm, pleasant ambient bloom in the surrounds.

Hey, you get two different screen formats. What else do you want in a forty-one-minute film? Plus, you get a total of five scene selections. Of course, you don't actually see these selections on a menu anywhere, but if you press your "Next" button, you'll move ahead through five chapters. What you do see on the menu are selections for a theatrical trailer and for English, French, Spanish, and Korean spoken languages and subtitles. What's more, at start-up only you get a series of trailers for "Happy Feet" (non-anamorphic widescreen), "Hoot" (anamorphic widescreen), "Toot & Puddle: I'll Be Home for Christmas" (anamorphic widescreen), and "Saving Shiloh" (non-anamorphic widescreen). Note that WB will make all of these films available on disc in anamorphic widescreen; it's just the trailers that are sometimes non-anamorphic.

But wait. That's not all. If you call within the next two minutes, we'll send you a free set of authentic, supersharp Ginza knives, perfect for cutting up shark, manta ray, and other deep-sea delicacies. Sorry, no. However, what you do get is a slipcover with a cool-looking 3-D holographic picture on it, and that's gotta be worth the price of admission. In addition, inside the keep case, you'll find a "Seafood Watch" national seafood guide, 2007, courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Parting Thoughts:
If you're measuring the value of "Deep Sea: IMAX" in terms of dollars per minute, the film comes up short. It is, after all, an awfully short film! But if you measure it in terms of the sheer loveliness of nature it conveys, in all its mesmerizing turbulence and grace, then its value is probably incalculable.


Film Value