Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure [Blu-ray Review]

Starring: Liev Schreiber
Directed By: Sean MacLeod Phillips

Studio: Warner Bros.
Running Time: 39 minutes
Ratings: G

Back Cover

Journey 80 million years back in time to an age when might dinosaurs dominated the land – and an equally astonishing assortment of ferocious creatures swam, hunted, and fought for survival beneath the vast, mysterious prehistoric seas. Stunning, photorealistic imagery re-creates the perilous underwater realm of two young, dolphin-sized marine reptiles called Dolichorhynchops, or Dollies, and follows their incredible journey through waters ruled by some of the most awesome predators ever to prowl the Earth’s oceans.Interweaving ground-breaking fossil finds from around the globe with cutting-edge computer-generated re-creations, National Geographic’s powerful storytelling immerses you in the life-or-death drama of an age when monsters ruled the seas! With original music by Peter Gabriel and The Footnote, and narrated by Liev Schreiber. Seen originally in IMAX and other special theatres.

Movie

National Geographic brings to life a world long lost in the annals of time with this presentation. Using historical details of uncovered fossils across the globe, they have assumed the role of dramaturge in creating the fictional journey of a particular ancient sea creature and her family. This breed of creature is know through the scientific community as the Dolichorhynchops; Dollie for short. As the viewer is witness to her experiences with other aquatic life, both predatorial and not, one begins to realize the inherent flaw in the presentation.

With paleontological dig dramatizations and computer generated content comprising almost the entire presentation, it leaves the plausibility of the presentation up for debate. There is not enough attention given to any factual details to necessarily substantiate the story. That’s not to say that there weren’t enough factual details in creating this presentation. There just isn’t enough presented to the viewer. For the most part, the presentation comes across as a series of conjectural “flights of fancy.”Despite the undeniable flaw in the content presentation, there is a significant beauty in the quality of the presentation. The computer generated images are indeed photo-realistic, as described accurately in the back cover description. And, the paleontological dramatizations are of very high quality as well. Costumes and settings are well tuned with one another given the different time periods in which the numerous fossil discoveries were made. Most transitions between the two worlds are quite well done via symmetrical fades and other interesting correlational techniques. Of particular interest for myself is a time-lapse segment showing millions of years worth of Earth landscape changes over the span of approximately one minute.

The narration by Liev Schreiber is nothing spectacular and serves its purpose, telling us a little more about what we are seeing on screen and advancing “the plot.” The composition by Peter Gabriel and The Footnote on the other hand serve to magnify the emotional scope of what is being seen on screen. When there is danger, the viewer feels the tension. When there is calm and curiosity, the viewer follows suit.

Crave Factor – 7

Extras

Interactive Timeline – This feature is a very detail specific, text based, interactive timeline. It gives the viewer much more detail about what prehistoric fossils were found in what parts of the world. It also details the era in which they have been discovered to have existed. Interestingly, some of the particular animal descriptions are also accompanied by 3D renditions of what they would have looked like while the rest usually provide a 2D drawing.

Crave Factor – 9

Video

1.78:1 Widescreen / AVC

Warner Bros., in a surprise turn, has used the AVC codec to encode this beautiful transfer. The advantage of this production is that is was obviously mostly created through a digital medium and therefore is not prone to any of the flaws inherent with dark underwater scenes on film. The blacks are incredibly well represented without even the slightest sign of artifacting. However, there are very few shades of black on which to judge these details. A couple of shots in particular stand out quite vividly though. One close-up of an animal footprint in a dark rainy scene is quite astonishing is showing a sublime amount of detailing in creating real depth with the blacks. But, the true beauty of any nature based production is rarely dependent on the blacks. It is the quality of the colours that give them life. And this presentation certainly has a vibrant life! Who knew that such a vast underwater world could be so visually captivating. I’ve seen the big titles like Planet Earth and Galapagos, which both offer high quality experiences, and neither compares with this. Mostly in thanks to its digitally created nature, this transfer offers an incredible amount of eye-candy for the visual enthusiasts.

Crave Factor – 10

Audio

Dolby Digital 5.1

I never expected a documentary style presentation to have such a strong audio mix. National Geographic has treated this like it is a motion picture presentation when it comes to the audio. The use of surround satellites is uncanny. With plenty of animals swimming past/around the camera it is refreshing to hear them actual pass you for a change. Most documentary style presentations of this nature reserve the surrounds for instrumental purposes. And, to top it all off, the subwoofer is treated with equal respect. When a massive predator swims through the frame, the enormity of its size is carried through the low frequencies generated through the LFE. There are also a couple of instances where explosions and other rumblings really feel as though they have occurred right in the middle of your living room. Schreiber’s narration is always clear and the orchestration is beautifully delivered. For a nature documentary, this far surpassed whatever expectations I had prior to watching it.

Crave Factor – 10

Menu

Scored by a very ominous and serious portion of the score, the main disc menu is comprised of a mid-sized video window displaying a montage of scenes from the presentation embedded within a soft background image filled with moving jellyfish. The title floats in between the two along the bottom edge of the video window. Along the bottom of the screen is a blue shaded menu bar where options and settings can be selected.

The playback pop-up menu is identical to that of the shaded menu bar in the main disc menu.

Crave Factor – 8

Conclusion

This title is definitely a unique reviewing experience as it has both strong pros and cons behind it. The video presentation is a magnificent thing to behold on Blu-ray. Colours are some of the sharpest that I have seen and, what blacks are there, are significantly detailed. And, the lack of artifacting in underwater visuals is also incredible. Likewise, the audio is a nice surprise with surrounds seeing a full spectrum of environmental and positional detail. The extra features… or should I say feature… is very well designed with both interesting and educational information. However, it is the only extra feature available. What keeps this from being a “must have” is the factual depth of the presentation content as it’s presented. More proof to substantiate the scenarios would have been nice to see. Also, the 39 minute runtime keeps this as a casual viewing experience which is not as immersive as other nature based productions.

As such, it ultimately comes down to a matter of personal preference. I highly recommend renting this title prior to deciding on a purchase.

Overall Crave Factor – 9

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