The world’s coral reefs are much more than an underwater curiosity. Home to an exotic array of creatures from the tiniest that form the coral formations to giant fish and invertebrates, coral reefs are the like an oasis in the desert, and their survival has an impact on the entire ocean ecosystem. When reef die, so do the species that depend upon it directly, and those creatures farther up the food chain—all the way to human. Unfortunately, too many of the world’s coral reefs are imperiled by human activity and just plain ignorance.
That is the message of Ocean Wonderland, just released on 3D Blu-ray by Universal. The 41-minute documentary, which also plays on conventional Blu-ray equipment, takes viewers on a tour of several reefs and the 4,500 different species that live in and around them. We are taken into the point of view of a particularly charming sea turtle as he explains reef ecology, pointing out different types of vibrantly hued corals, anemones, and fish—predators and prey, as well as other animals.
Produced by Jean Michel Cousteau in 2003 for IMAX exclusively using digital technology, Ocean Wonderland was the first 3D Large Format underwater movie. The technology allowed the filmmakers to shoot almost entirely in natural light, enhancing the movie’s realistic reef experience.
Unfortunately without 3D equipment, I was unable to experience the full effect of Ocean Wonderland, but even in standard Blu-ray, the presentation is gorgeous. Having toured the reef systems off the Bahamas and off the Yucatan coast, I found this virtual trip to the Bahamas and Great Barrier Reef a realistic simulation of tourist submarine excursion. In 3D, I’m certain viewers will be treated to something akin to a SCUBA dive, able to reach out and almost touch the plant and animal life of the reef. The highlight of Ocean Wonderland captures a school of bright yellow snapper in exquisite ballet—perfectly timed to the film’s lush score.
The Blu-ray presentation in 1080p with an aspect ratio: 1.78:1 (the same as the original) is vivid and realistic, with small details like coral textures and intricate patterning of gills crystal clear. The colors are vivid and true.
I had been concerned about how the 3D presentation would translate to conventional Blu-ray—would the picture come across as obviously intended for 3D viewing? This did not turn out to be an issue at all, so do not be at all concerned about purchasing this release if you don’t happen to have 3D hardware (yet).
Christophe Jacquelin’s evocative score is crisp and immersive in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. It provides a beautiful accompaniment to the film, surrounding the viewer, but never detracting from the visual wonders onscreen.
Ocean Wonderland is an excellent educational nature film, and noteworthy for its ambitious use of digital technology. While it may not be able to compete with the more sophisticated “wow” of more recent underwater excursions (at least on in 2D), it will keep you engaged as you learn about this critical watery ecosystem. If you have 3D equipment, I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to experience this great underwater nature film as it originally appeared in the IMAX.