Universal has released a trio of ocean documentary Blu-rays in 3D. Although all are in the same vein, Fascination Coral Reef 3D and Fascination Coral Reef 3D: Mysterious Worlds Underwater form a two-part series on separate discs, while Amazing Ocean 3D is from a separate production company. Titles contain the feature in both 3D and 2D versions.
These are short underwater excursions that aspire to the BBC Earth and IMAX template of nature documentaries. Narrator voice-overs guide you through a swim in the ocean, commenting along the way on various species of animal life. All three titles have a similar feel, and each runs in the general 50-minute range.
Fascination Coral Reef 3D and Fascination Coral Reef 3D: Mysterious Worlds Underwater are two halves of the same coin, and feature longer tracking shots of more select animal groups. Narration is an issue because it feels random, often just giving a sentence or two on the species featured onscreen, and then remaining silent until something else floats by. Which is fine, as the narration is rather generic and dry. The editing feels rough draft, and there’s not much flow to speak of with each title. However, there is an option to turn off the narration so you can simply watch the images, which is probably going to be the main draw here anyway.
Amazing Ocean 3D actually ups the ante a bit regarding quality of cinematography, better-paced editing and overall structure to the film. But then it’s two steps back as soon as the music and the narrator’s inane commentary fully reveal themselves. Unless you have young children who are really into 3D, I can’t imagine the narration finding much of an audience. And that’s the main frustration with all of these titles is this unfinished and badly rushed aspect to several not-unimportant components, especially in regards to the nature documentary genre.
Video / 3D
Video for all three titles is mostly fine, although on the soft side, with some of the detail getting lost either by clarity or sometimes murky filming conditions. Although perhaps more realistic, there is no color correction apparent on the Fascination Coral Reef titles, where many of the shots reveal dingy underwater colors bathed in the harsh torches of their light rigs. A light amount of ringing is evident, especially when shots include brighter, filtered sunlight from above. But still, given their no-doubt low budget, the quality is not too bad. Amazing Ocean 3D fares a bit better in the overall quality department, although even it doesn’t have completely sharp detail.
It’s obvious from the other aspects of these releases that their only real selling point is this newfangled technology the kids are calling “3D”. And boy, do they ever try to overcompensate on that front. The 3D is as exaggerated as they can get it, to the point of making it often look anything but real. In crowded shots with small fish floating by the foreground, you could be forgiven for thinking that they were digitally inserted over a matte background, such is their 3D disconnect from their surroundings. Even the debris and tiny organisms that wander too close to the camera command “pop-out” treatment. The whole experience is frequently so overdone as to make your eyes hurt after just a short dip underwater. No doubt there will be some who see this style (even if not in these specific releases) as the pinnacle of 3D, but for the rest of us it just swings things past realism and in the other direction.
For the Fascination Coral Reef 3D releases, the downtempo meets smooth jazztronica soundtracks are the main thing taking up residence in their DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtracks. The, frankly, awkward sounding narrators are clear enough, and although not ever-present, there is at least the nice option of being able to have a music-only audio track. The music is fine, I suppose, although it’s very stock sounding, adding to the feeling that these were releases put together in a weekend.
Amazing Ocean 3D features a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and, unfortunately, much worse music, sounding like someone found the demo settings on their keyboard and therefore became the default “composer” for the weekend. Although in the track’s defense, it maintains balance and clarity as well as the above releases. But again, you are not coming here for the audio (please trust me on this).
There are no bonus items on any of the titles.
The Fascination Coral Reef 3D and Amazing Ocean 3D titles are certainly not terrible in the video department, but they’re unimpressive overall and smack of cash-in on the whole 3D movement. Honestly, the main offense is that their aggressive over-tweaking of 3D hampers the one thing they really had going for them. Viewed in their 2D state, you can see that there’s some fair video to take in, but certainly nothing that would make you put aside your BBC Earth titles for even a second. But they all completely drop the ball on the narration and music front, which leave these as little more than screensavers for your TV (or at least the kind you have to wear bulky glasses to enjoy). If you find these available for rent or for cheap, and have a particular interest in 3D Blu-rays, you can safely judge these short titles for yourself. But once better nature outfits put forth their own, and perhaps inevitable, offerings, these will have little to recommend them, as they are currently budget titles in every respect except price.