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HD DVD Review: Blue Planet (IMAX)

Posted on Tuesday, October 9th, 2007 9:50 PM by Scott Jentsch

Front Cover ArtworkBlue Planet (IMAX)
HD DVD
Warner Home Video X8150
44 minutes

List Price: $28.99 (Check Price at Amazon.com)

Available on HD DVD 7/31/2007

NR

 TheatricalThis HD DVD
Aspect Ratio:1.44:1 1.78:1
Audio:

Unknown

Dolby TrueHD
Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Dolby Digital +
Dolby Digital Plus 5.1

Disc 1 Contents

  • Movie
  • Extras
    • Bonus Movie: The Dream is Alive

About the Movie

How many movies can you watch that were made, not by big-name directors and Academy Award winning cinematographers, but by astronauts? Looking at the world from 200 miles up gives you a new perspective, and it's a view that few of us alive today will ever enjoy in person.

Instead of labeling this HD DVD as a double feature, the second movie "The Dream is Alive" is treated as bonus material. While watching it, one can imagine that this would be playing non-stop at the Kennedy Space Center for visitors to get an idea of what the space program is all about.

How Does it Look?

Six months ago, I would have said that the picture quality of this disc was stunning, excellent, and maybe a few other words that reviewers like to use so much. However, with the release of the "Planet Earth" documentaries on HD DVD, every title afterwards (and especially any nature documentary) is going to have to measure up to the standard set by that series.

While watching these movies, you can tell that it was sourced from film. There is a mild jump to the picture that is slightly noticeable (I'm a little sensitive to this issue, so most may not even notice), and the space shots have a graininess that is probably part of the original film, and not anything to do with the transfer itself. When the camera comes back to earth to show us the African landscape, these issues are not at all noticeable. If I were not spoiled by the excellent HD material from "Planet Earth," I doubt that there would be anything other than positive comments about this disc.

How Does it Sound?

One of the big bragging points of IMAX theaters is their big sound systems to match their big screens. Surprisingly, the sound on both features isn't very in-your-face, and only occasionally activates the surrounds for effect.

In the main feature, there is a thunderstorm at the beginning of Chapter 2 that demonstrates this very well. It builds slowly with some dark clouds, some lightning, and a little thunder. It then builds into the darker clouds, more frequent lightning, and big cracks and large rolling thunder that fills the surrounds and gives your subwoofer something to do.

In the bonus movie, there is an interesting effect with the launching of a satellite from the Space Shuttle (around the 10:30 mark) where the voices from Mission Control come out of the surrounds. I had my Yamaha receiver's Dolby ProLogic IIx decoding activated, and the voices came out of the right rear and left rear speakers independently. While normally surrounds are supposed to blend together to create a particular environment, this effect worked well for the type of program that it was.

This HD DVD featured both Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. (Please see our Help Section for more information about the Dolby sound formats on HD DVD) In theory, the Dolby TrueHD lossless soundtrack should sound better than the lossy Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack, but I had a hard time distinguishing any differences between the two. What differences I might have detected may have had more to do with the fact that I was expecting to hear something. Both tracks appear in both movies, and serve both equally well.

Extras

The bonus movie, "The Dream is Alive," has a running time of 37 minutes. While not as current as the main feature, it is an interesting addition. Walter Cronkite was the voice of national news during the space race in the 1960s, so his voice is a comfortable and suitable companion for the bonus movie. It was made in 1985, five years before "Blue Planet," and it shows in the production quality and in the stylish pale blue suits worn by the Mission Control staff.

I like to see the theatrical trailer included with movies, so I was disappointed to see that none was included (but none may have been made in this case) and no other extras were included in this package.

Conclusion

"Blue Planet" is an IMAX documentary that was intended for the extra large screens of IMAX theaters, and it has been cropped to an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 to make it more compatible with HD video displays. Normally, I don't like the idea of cropping a movie to fit the dimensions of the display device, but with IMAX films, we have a unique situation where there is no way to install a screen in your home that can get close to approximating the IMAX experience. Even though you don't have that "overwhelming visuals" feeling while watching this HD DVD, it communicates the material well nonetheless. For this reason, I do not fault the decision to crop the image to fit the displays it's intended for.

"Blue Planet" is the best space documentary I've seen, and it's transfer to HD DVD is very good. If you're into space, the environment, and the space program, this disc is pretty much a must-have!

Recommended Reading

Don't just take our word for it, check out these resources for more reviews of the movie and of the HD DVD.

RentBuy

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