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Blu-ray Review: Arctic Tale

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The Movie

From the same people who brought the world March of the Penguins comes a new adventure on the opposite side of the world, Arctic Tale. Following the lives of a family of polar bears and a family of walruses, Arctic Tale is a look into the rarely seen lives of these species.

Arctic Tale is narrated by Queen Latifah, which is its first mistake. She just doesn’t command the same awe as Morgan Freeman did in March of the Penguins, and she has some pretty bad jokes to boot. Instead of focusing on the true majesty of the lives of these rare animals, Arctic Tale instead tries to bring it down to a level for children, including a scene showing a pack of walruses farting. The material written for Latifah isn’t much better. Many times during the film the humor turns fairly low-brow, sophomoric even, which takes away from the beauty of nature unfolding before you.

Arctic Tale was shot over many years. Each year the filmmakers would return and pick up where they left off. From the footage you can really tell that this was a labor of love that must have required untold amounts of dedication. It’s sad that the hammed-up script ruins it the way it does.

But even with Queen Latifah’s gimmicky dialogue, Arctic Tale still contains a wide assortment of beautiful images and a story about these majestic arctic animals which doesn’t even need a narrator for us to understand what is going on.

There is a not so subtle underlying theme about global warming. While the issue is a very real and important one, Arctic Tale almost tries to drill it into your head. The extreme heavy-handiness comes during the credits when various children appear telling people how to save energy and the earth. I have no problem with these messages, but when they are so blatantly presented they do detract from the overall beauty of the animals that are on display.

The Quality

Arctic Tale is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.

Since Arctic Tale was filmed over a vast amount of time with a variety of different film stocks it’s definitely a mixed bag when it comes to high-def clarity. As is to be expected when filming in an unforgiving and totally unpredictable environment like the Arctic, things are not going to appear as perfect as they do in films shot on a controlled sound stage, but considering the limits this transfer does at times surprise.

Much like March of the Penguins, Arctic Tale can be crystal clear at one moment then grainy and slightly fuzzy the next. Many of the polar bear shots are extremely zoomed in from a safe filming distance which accentuates film grain in some shots. Then the next moment you’ll be looking at a writhing lump of communal blubber lying on a piece of floating ice in the middle of the ocean. Each walrus is clear and defined right down to its warty, hairy skin. The walruses may be just a little too well-defined, given their unfortunate appearances.

Many of the overhead shots are pristine, like when a herd of white beluga whales are swimming through a channel in the ice. Their white bodies glisten in the dark blue water. Many of the underwater shots are comparable in nature and offer a high-def view of the unseen world.

Presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, the soundtrack is just as mixed as the picture quality is. Being a documentary, all sounds were recorded on location. Some are muffled, some are clear, but that is to be expected. I did have a problem with the obviously enhanced “walrus farts,” which seemed to be the only sound to really use any of the other channels besides the front. The pop music presented in the film isn’t overbearing, but only uses the front channels. Queen Latifah’s narration is right up front and never deviates, blending nicely with the music and ambient sounds of the film.

The Special Features

"The Making of Arctic Tale" is an interesting look into the day-in, day-out, year after year struggle of the filmmakers to make this film. At first they just wanted to get some good footage of walruses and polar bears, but then found themselves making a feature-length film. After watching many nature documentaries I have come to the conclusion that filmmakers who make nature films are completely crazy as evidenced by one of the filmmakers staying on a deserted island with a hungry polar bear as his guide goes back to the mainland for supplies.

"Polar Bear Spotting" is one of the worst special features ever created for Blu-ray, or any other format for that matter. It is only six minutes long, but every one of those minutes is excruciating. A mini-episode from a show called Are We There Yet? World Adventure has two rambunctious kids taking a tour out to see wild polar bears. Not only are the children annoying, we just got done watching a film about the preciousness of life in the tundra and here they are driving out in a gargantuan monster truck of a machine, which doesn’t look the least bit environmentally friendly. This huge vehicle is then used to drive right up by wild polar bears so people can gawk over the rails at them. All the majesty, the rarity of these animals is washed away in these six minutes. This feature should be stripped from this Blu-ray and never shown light again. It’s pathetic, and undermines the entire film that you just watched.

The theatrical trailer is also presented here in high-definition. The other features are standard definition only.

Ending Thoughts

While not as involving or engrossing as March of the Penguins, Arctic Tale still has a lot to show us in terms of the raw beauty of the north. Queen Latifah’s narration at times can be grating, but for the most part is harmless. With a documentary on nature its hard to find any faults. You’re here for the beautiful images, and the heart-wrenching stories, and Arctic Tale has that by the boatloads.

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  • http://christiannature.blogspot.com April Lorier

    Wow, Aaron! You really covered all the bases in this review. Yes, this film is geared toward a younger audience, with Queen Latifah in the mix for a ‘hipper’ flavor. Don’t get me wrong, I love her as an actress and singer, but I enjoy Morgan Freeman tremendously. Still, both films are great experiences in Nature, which is what I blog about every day. A well-done review, Aaron!