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Blu-ray Review: Ring of Fire

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This has been the year of seismic activity: earthquakes—huge earthquakes, and volcanoes. And there is no more active place on earth for these awesome, fearsome, and powerful geological phenomena than in the region called the “Ring of Fire.”

Inception Media has released the made-for-IMAX nature documentary Ring of Fire on Blu-ray. Originally produced in 1991, Ring of Fire played in IMAX theaters with their giant screens, and with the most realistic sound possible at the time. IMAX presentation is made for presentation of these rare—and rarely seen geologic events—and, although it’s not quite the experience of watching a film like this in the IMAX, Blu-ray seems to be the natural choice in making the material accessible to many more viewers.

Ring of Fire takes viewers on a tour of this seismically active region, a vast area surrounding the Pacific Ocean from Chile to the Aleutians; Japan to Indonesia. There are 400 active volcanoes on the Ring of Fire, and they provide a window on the awesome geological events that shape our planet.

Narrated by Robert Foxworth (Transformers, Syriana), the breathtaking nature documentary is visually stunning, getting up close to these smoldering mountains. A lake of molten lava in Hawaii gives us a birds-eye view of Earth’s crust—and how it works, as red-hot tectonic plates crash into each other. The action of the plates is what causes the planet’s seismic events: devastating earthquakes, and the most violent geologic events produced—volcanoes.

The documentary recalls numerous major seismic events, including the devastating 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the eruptions of Mount St. Helens, Kilauea, and Mount Sakurajima in Japan. The close shots of Spirit Lake and the St. Helens lava dome as it literally rebuilds the mountain are fascinating, but the slight overuse of fish-eye photography is at time distracting.

The documentary also gets into the ways in which different cultures learn to live in harmony with these powerful natural forces, particularly in Japan and Indonesia.

There is unintended irony, too, as the narration states, “No people on earth are as prepared for natural disaster as the Japanese,” a statement that might now be disputed in the tragic aftermath of the major quake and tsunami that hit Japan this past spring. Although much of the documentary focuses on the dangers inherent in these powerful geologic phenomena, it does not neglect the great potential of harnessing the power of volcanoes for geothermal energy and the plentiful natural resources available (albeit at a high human cost) for those who risk the danger of mining them.

The picture in this Blu-ray release is stunning, richly photographed on the giant IMAX film. The transfer to Blu-ray is excellent, especially notable in the eruption scenes and numerous close ups of molten lava flows. The 1080p transfer with 1.78:1 aspect ratio provides great detail, far beyond what I imagine was delivered on the standard definition version.

Is it as powerful experience as more recent film might be, using 21st Century technology? Perhaps not, but even at the age of the original, the transfer is still excellent. You can practically feel the red-hot lava as it cascades down mountainsides, and choke on the ash clouds as they tower into the sky.

The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio provides a realistic listening experience. The rumble of volcanoes and explosive eruptions resonate as they should.

Ring of Fire would make a great Blu-ray addition to the library of any aficionado of nature films. At 38 minutes, it’s short enough to keep the attention of a precocious child interested in natural history, but is certainly educational and beautiful to watch for anyone interested in the power hidden beneath the surface in this corner of the Earth.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.